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George Floyd Protests: 'Why Do People Burn Down Their Own Neighborhood?'

Protesters in front of a burning police station in Minneapolis. (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)
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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 and continuing after Floyd became unresponsive. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested today and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Whenever violent unrest follows incidents of police violence against black Americans, it's almost inevitably trailed by some version of this question: "Why are protesters ruining their own neighborhood?"

But depending on who's doing the asking, the question is probably already loaded. USC law professor Jody Armour says we shouldn't necessarily expect "rational, reasoned behavior" when trying to understand a community experiencing trauma.

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"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."

And here's another way of looking at it, from a caller — David in Los Feliz — to our newsroom's public affairs talk show, AirTalk:
"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."

And then there's the fact that not everyone at a protest is there for the same reason.


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