At the time of this writing, protests over racism and police violence have continued in at least 75 cities across the United States and London, Berlin, and Toronto in the days after George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer. A video captured the incident in which Floyd is already pinned chest down to the ground, and Officer Chauvin is kneeling on his neck. Floyd goes silent and motionless, but Chauvin does not lift his knee from Floyd’s neck. The bystanders protest that Floyd is “not responsive”, and repeatedly ask the police to check Floyd’s pulse. An ambulance eventually arrives, and Chauvin does not remove his knee until emergency medical services put Floyd’s unresponsive body on a stretcher. This video showed that Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck for at least seven minutes. People are taking their anger to the streets in a demonstration of protest. Unfortunately, for many reasons, protests have turned to looting and burning.
Anger, even rage, is a morally right and justifiable emotion in the face of this murder. Righteous anger is a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment. It is a healthy, appropriate, and reasonable response to an injustice.
The external expressions of anger are intended to warn aggressors to stop their threatening behavior and can serve as a tool for survival. Rage is typically loud, big, unpredictable, and dangerous. Anger is a normal and intense emotional response to a provocation, hurt, or threat. The body reacts with such things as an increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased adrenaline, and noradrenaline. The body is then primed for a fight. Resulting riots should not surprise those of us living in the United States when there is rarely acknowledgment, apology, restitution, closure, or justice for racist acts.
Anger in itself is not good or bad. But it is a signal that something is wrong and requires change. It can be expressed through destructive means or it can be a strategy for social influence. Anger can be suppressed or can be expressed as passive, aggressive, or assertive. Suppressed anger will often find an outlet. For example, suppressed anger about racism found an outlet resulting in these riots. Passive anger takes a toll on one’s health and wellbeing. Aggressive anger is evidenced in violence, vandalism, threats to persons and property. Assertive anger holds the wrongdoer accountable, seeks justice, and responsible outcome.
MLK, Jr wrote in 1967, “Riots are socially destructive and self-defeating, but it is the language of the unheard. As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riot over and over again.” Racism is systemic and institutionalized in the US. It must be corrected through assertive action.
Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, asked for the community to respond to his death in a way that honors him. She said: “You can’t fight fire with fire. Everything just burns, and I’ve seen it all day – people hate, they’re hating, they’re hating, they’re mad. And he would not want that.”
Killer Mike, activist and rapper, is angry and tired of seeing black men die. However, he appealed to the public to stop burning and looting. Instead, he encouraged coordinated action to address the system of systemic racism. “We must plot, we must plan, we must strategize, and we must organize and mobilize.”
For those of us who are not people of color, we must listen, learn, and be good allies. As an example, I saw a photo from a rally in downtown Louisville, where people called for justice in the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her apartment in March by Louisville police during a no-knock warrant. It shows a line of white women, arms locked, standing between Louisville Metro Police officers and black protesters. “This is a line of white people forming a barrier between black protesters and the police. This is love. This is what you do with your privilege,” the post states.
Take assertive action to stop racism in your corner of the world. Responsible action will turn anger to hope. Listen, learn, join arms, and as so many have said “be the change”.