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The False Dichotomy Of Protest Coverage So Far

Demonstrators face off with police while a car burns in the Fairfax District Saturday (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)
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Protests are continuing across Southern California this week in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.

Demonstrators are demanding change to address police brutality and institutional racism in the United States. We spoke to Isaac Bryan, the director of public policy at UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, about what's going on and his thoughts on how the media is covering the events so far:

QUESTION: What do you think is missing from the news coverage and conversations around the protests?

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I've seen a lot of this dichotomy narrative between any potential acts of violence or property test being contrasted with people [protesting]. I think that that is a false dichotomy of what's actually happening. It doesn't speak to the righteousness of what's happening in this moment; the desperation, that trauma with the need for adequate policy solutions and really inspiring leadership.

But irrespective of all of that, the broader focus of what should be focused on [and] talked about in this moment is the movement for Black lives. It is the righteous and rational reaction from folks that have been unheard for decades on this issue.

We saw a man murdered in the street, literally had his neck and spine broken by the knee of a law enforcement officer. The autopsy came out today. And it didn't have to happen. And it's not the first time things like that has happened both in our city and nationally, and people have a right go out and respond, however they see fit.

Q: The response we have heard before is, well, you can change things. You can go out and vote, and that will change things.

Right. I believe that, let me be very clear about that. But there are some things that move too slow, and there are some fires that have to be lit underneath our leaders to really get them to act properly. This week, the city of Los Angeles going to a vote to adopt a new budget for the new fiscal year.

At the same time that 16,000 city workers are being furloughed and asked to take a 10% pay cut, the city of Los Angeles is considering giving $125 to $200 million, in addition to their previous budget, to the Los Angeles Police Department. That is counter to what the people are demanding. That is counter to what the movement is demanding. So going out and, quite frankly, making some noise and being heard might be the fire that some folks need to have to return back to really representing the ideals in the community that they ran for office on.

Q: We're in the middle of this now, but what's the next step for this movement? Where we do go from here?

I think we need a few more days -- to be honest -- of people really letting it be heard that were unhappy. And I can tell you that 3rd and Fairfax on Saturday, I was at that protest. I was on the frontlines. I got hit with a baton. I got hit with a baton several times. I saw loved ones get thrown to the ground as police, surrounded us, suppressed it and really escalated what was a peaceful demonstration. I think we need a little bit more... we need the city, we need the country, to understand [that] this moment is catalytic. It is a broader, louder exclamation than we have ever seen before, and it requires the proper response in policy decisions in electoral leadership and in reallocation of resources.

And then I would like to see people get organized. There are organizations that have been leading this work for decades. There are organizations on the ground here in Los Angeles that have been calling for equitable policing, that are really leading this work. And I would encourage twenty-thousand, thiry-thousand people that were out in the streets trying to be heard to align themselves with these organizations so they can really funnel that energy is a collective power.

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Q: I'm just curious about your confidence level on a scale of one to 10, 10 being you really think change is coming. Where are you?

I am not one of those people who believes that it only gets worse and it never gets better. I think we have the power to change the conditions of life around us. I believe that we have the power. I believe in people power. And right now, when I see as many people out in the streets voicing their frustrations, wanting to be heard as I've seen the last few days, that gives me hope. Now, do I think the city's gonna pass people's budget this week? The pragmatist in me is saying: Probably not, probably not.

But do I think the moral arc bends towards justice in the long run? I definitely do. And I'm gonna be doing all I can to push it that way.