A Voice in the Violence - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Becuase you cannot stab a man and then tell him not to scream in pain.

  • The looting in U.S. cities in recent weeks doesn’t really have to do with the death of George Floyd.
  • Looters were taking a radical step to redistribute wealth and act out against a broken system.
  • Without the violence, we might not have seen charges brought against the police officers or the swift police reforms.

I pick up the leopard-print-and-black frames and am surprised at their weight. Sunglasses are by no means new to me, but I have never experienced designer ones up close. “They go for about $435,” the 22-year-old creative entrepreneur in Chicago tells me. The Chanel shades are just one of the items he looted from Saks Fifth Avenue on Michigan Avenue downtown in what he says was a split-second decision. 

“I’m still a good few feet away from the windows and this big Black dude looks over at me and says, ‘Come on, bro, we’re in. We’re in it.’ I say: ‘Damn, OK, I guess we’re in it then,’” he tells me — he asks that his name not be printed, for obvious reasons — as we sit in his apartment. Half-white and half-Latino, he looks white and is well-aware of his privilege because of that. 

He lays out what he estimates to be $10,000 worth of looted goods. I ask him about guilt and whether any of the looting had to do with the murder of George Floyd, to which he responds: “I was … thinking about capitalism and the fact that these stores don’t treat anyone with respect unless you’re an über-white man. At that point, I was like: What has this store ever done for me? Or done for the community in general?”

These are efforts to redistribute power and wealth, to challenge the class system, to channel frustration and pain and to be heard.

That’s the thing about the violence, unrest and mayhem that have accompanied the recent protests. They aren’t really about Floyd, but they shouldn’t be so easily dismissed either.

The dominant opinion across the ideological spectrum has been in favor of peaceful protest. Opinions on looting vary based on what you’re taking and whom you’re taking it from. When it’s toilet paper or cases of water, it makes more sense for most people. But there’s a major disconnect when they see TVs, shoes and designer bags being hauled away. 

Hip-hop icon Trina came under heavy fire after referring to rioters in her hometown of Miami as “animals.” Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s creative director and founder of the fashion label Off-White, was trending on Twitter after mourning the destruction of his friend Sean Wotherspoon’s Round Two Vintage store and his own stores in Los Angeles. Even rapper and activist Killer Mike told his fellow Atlantans to “be better than burning down our own homes.” 

Unlike the peaceful protesters, who are there to demand justice for Floyd and the other unarmed Black men killed by white police officers, the rioters have a different bone to pick. Floyd’s death happened to make it the right time to pick it. They aren’t after material gain, and they aren’t arsonists. Much like the young looter I spoke with, theirs are efforts to redistribute power and wealth, to challenge the class system, to channel frustration and pain and to be heard. Furthermore, the looters see the businesses as doing nothing for the community, and they assume the losses will be covered by insurance companies. 

And the riots were certainly effective at getting attention. It wasn’t until after Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia and other cities went up in flames that Floyd’s killer was charged. And it wasn’t until police precincts and cop cars were destroyed that the officers who stood by and watched Floyd die were taken off the streets. The charge against Derek Chauvin was upgraded from third-degree to second-degree murder in light of the unrest.

Perhaps if the same level of violence had broken out for Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and so many others, there would have been stronger charges against officers or changes in policy like the chokehold ban that the New York Legislature passed this week.

Floyd’s case is not over. If the officers are acquitted, as has so often been the case even in the rare instances when charges have been brought, expect the violence to pick up right where it left off.

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