How LA Is Reckoning With The George Floyd Protests

A protest Wednesday was organized and promoted by the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Angry protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have swept the nation.

Floyd died Monday after an officer pinned him to the pavement by pressing his knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd said he couldn't breathe. Floyd became unresponsive at one point, but the officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to pin him for nearly three more minutes.

Chauvin was arrested today and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He had been fired, along with three other officers involved in the incident, earlier in the week.

Here in Los Angeles, protesters shut down the 101 Freeway on the first day of protests and swarmed the L.A. Police Department's downtown headquarters on the second.

This pattern — someone dies or is killed in an encounter with police, protests and riots ensue, protesters are criticized for their response — has repeated itself almost too many times to count, although in this case the incident and the officer have been almost universally condemned.


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USC law professor Jody Armour told AirTalk, our newsroom's public affairs show, that this particular case may have struck a particularly raw nerve because it came on the heels of two other racially charged events: the killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery and an encounter in New York City in which a woman, Amy Cooper, called the police on an African American bird watcher who had been asking her to leash her dog and caught the encounter on video.

"She called 911 and seemed to many to kind of weaponize her whiteness by getting a tremulous voice and telling the police that an African American man is threatening her. And I think a lot of people thought how easily Christian Cooper, the black male in that video, could have become George Floyd if the police had arrived and he didn't have video of their transaction before. So I think this was a convergence of a lot of kinds of cases and moments coming together, and really kind of like fingering a bleeding ulcer, tearing a scab from a festering wound and causing a lot of reckoning and reflection."

Host Larry Mantle asked callers across L.A. to share their thoughts about the incident. Here's what they had to say, along with a few responses from Armour.

Robin in Bellflower:

"I think when people in communities see video after video come out, and yet that didn't do it, that doesn't seem to be enough, it unleashes a torrent that had been pressed down — thinking that evidence was going to make the difference, and then when it doesn't, it literally is like a dagger to the heart and just unleashes itself violently, unfortunately."

David in Los Feliz:

"I think these protests are a way for a community to put a cost on the lives that are being taken in a community ... It's a message to the powers that be that says, 'You don't want your neighborhood, you don't want your community, burnt down, [so] stop killing our people.' And I think it's a tradition that goes back to the American Revolution ... They got fed up, and they tried and they petitioned and nothing happened, so they threw the tea in the bay, and they started, you know, burning stuff down. If there's no price to be put on a person's life, that's a powerless community's attempt to put a cost on that."

Jesse in Van Nuys:

"I just thought it was pretty notable, watching the protests in Minneapolis and watching the fact that they ... shot tear gas at these protesters. And comparing that against the protests in Michigan, what about a week-and-a-half ago, where heavily armed, largely white protesters stormed the Capitol Building and received next to no pushback from law enforcement. If that's not white privilege, I don't know what it is. And that is for me why Black lives matter."

Cindy in South L.A.:

"I feel like it's a breaking point, and I think it's a visual manifestation of exhaustion of a history of oppression, a history of abuse. And it's just people who have taken too much this entire time. And they no longer want to stay complicit in their own dehumanization ... I just think they're behaving rationally, because they're at a breaking point of abuse, and that just makes sense to me from a psychological standpoint."

Sam in West L.A.:

"I'm trying to understand how protests help a group when they attack their own society. We watched when my daughter was at Hopkins the riots in Baltimore, and after so many buildings and facilities were burned or buried down there, they had a hard time getting any other investors like CVS or Walgreens to go in, because history shows that they have a hard time surviving in neighborhoods such as that. So do you have any research or ideas of how we can understand why protests will turn on their own communities, rather than some other way of protesting, which I understand, but it does not help the majority of the people to ruin what people have already built?"

Armour:

"When you're talking about people who are suffering post-traumatic stress disorders, for example, you don't always expect rational, reasoned behavior from them, right? We understand that their trauma can drive a wedge between, you know, a kind of more rational self and the self that is in pain, who is crying out — a cry without an alphabet. But it's hard to shame protesters, as I hear a lot of people doing, for not caring about society, or more generally, when they're revolting as a reaction to society not caring about them ... It is one of the tragedies that comes out of this that, you know, people who are feeling so traumatized, they can't get to the other side of town. They can't go anywhere else. Sometimes they'll go to the third precinct police station like they did in this case, and set it ablaze. But sometimes when you're feeling trauma, and you're going through this kind of pain, rationality is not what's foremost in control."

Larry and Armour pointed out that large protests are often complex events that can attract a number of disparate groups and individuals. Here's Armour again:

"Black Lives Matter organizers themselves will often try to direct the crowd to go in directions that are going to express their concerns, but not breed unnecessary violence. But then you'll have outsiders, sometimes provocateurs who aren't any part of the BLM group or any of the people who were behind the organizing coming in and trying to provoke additional things that aren't sanctioned by any of the organizers or anybody else ... You have to look at them as more than just an undifferentiated, monolithic mass."

Apollonio in Canoga Park:

"For Black America and colored America, it's been our reality forever. People have to say goal-oriented and, you know, be disciplined, and not give in to the rioting and everything, because it's going to overshadow, you know, what the purpose of what they're protesting ... It's playing to the typical stereotypes that people have for Black, Brown, for oppressed America. Martin Luther King [and his followers], they had discipline. In the midst of getting kicked, beat, they remained disciplined. They didn't meet violence with violence."

John in Valley Village:

"I've heard a lot of the news outlets refer to what's happening as 'riot' and me, personally, I think of rioting as what sports fans do after a big game, whereas when it's an oppressed people rising up against oppressors, it's an 'uprising' ... Why do we do a disservice to protesters and people fighting for justice by just calling it a riot instead of referring to it as something more meaningful, which is an uprising, which is what it is?"

Armour:

"When you hear 'revolt' or 'uprising,' it has a little different accent. I can see why someone would be drawn to that, too. It seems like you're rebelling against some kind of oppressive force, or some kind of dominating force. And 'riot' can have that connotation ... but it can also connote kind of chaotic, mindless, blind behavior that people engage in when their sports team wins or loses ... Words are important here ... When I talk about our urban unrest that we had here, the 1992 riots, which we often call them — sometimes we call them 'revolts,' 'uprising' — I call them 'urban unrest' just to get away from those concerns. It was certainly one of the greatest urban conflagrations in modern American history. But a lot of times how we describe these events tell us as much about the observer as what's being observed ... I think we have to think about language in a lot of subtle, nuanced ways when we're getting into these issues."

LISTEN TO THE FULL SEGMENT FROM AIRTALK:

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE OF THE GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS: