Iowa’s northern neighbor is the current epicenter of a centuries-long infliction of violence and oppression against Black Americans.
On Memorial Day, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man was killed after repeating, “I can’t breathe” as a white police officer knelt on his neck. Floyd had been arrested after a Minneapolis store employee accused him of attempting a purchase with a counterfeit $20 bill. During the arrest, when the officer had knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, Floyd became unresponsive and died later that evening.
Not only does the case of Floyd echo the killing of another Black man, Eric Garner — who also pleaded “I can’t breathe” — at the hands of a New York police officer in 2014, it is a continuation of 400 years of white supremacy in this country.
Fighting for justice in our time
As the Daily Iowan Editorial Board, we support the Black Lives Matter movement and urge all Iowans and Americans to do the same in whatever form they can.
As white journalists, it is our responsibility to publicly voice our support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and to show our solidarity with all Black journalists, including those at CNN arrested on the scene of a protest, who continue to endure the criminality of police brutality.
Of course, we are not the only ones in our community to take antiracist stances. Iowa City Interim Police Chief Bill Campbell condemned the actions that killed Floyd. University of Iowa Provost Montse Fuentes and Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen have voiced their outrage. Many other Iowa City residents have proclaimed support of Black Lives Matter.
But it’s not as if Iowa is immune to police brutality. Protests began escalating in Des Moines Friday evening after rally organizers asked attendees to disperse peacefully. Officers responded to protesters throwing water bottles and kicking police cars with tear gas and mace. This is not a Minneapolis problem; it’s an American one.
Many nationwide have donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, an organization that is paying cash bail and cash bond of arrested protesters; even beyond Minneapolis. Giving money to organizations that aid protesters has spread as a form of activism across social media.
To add local support and protest against police brutality, an Iowa City rally is set is set for noon today on the Pentacrest. Organizers raised funds for face masks and hand sanitizers for those who need access to them to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Fighting for justice in our history
In supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, we must be clear that is not our place, nor our purpose to critique how it or any human-rights cause should object to injustice. It is also important to note the vast majority of protests have been organized and demonstrated nonviolently.
However, we will state that the escalation of these protests becoming riots, in our view, is prompted by the initial act of violence. Specifically, when Black Lives Matter protests began this week in demand for justice for George Floyd’s murder — a third-degree category charge the Minneapolis officer now faces in court — those protests began as peaceful demonstration. It was not until the Minneapolis police began to use tear gas to disperse the protest that escalation began.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967, “As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantees of riot prevention.”
And as his daughter Bernice King tweeted Friday, “It would be great if folks were as zealous about evoking my father to eradicate racism as they are about evoking him to criticize how people respond to racism.”
Violence by citizens is a response to violence by government.
Force by and for the people is itself an American act of progress. In the fight for women’s rights to vote, Suffragettes rioted in response to being assaulted by male officers. In only a couple days, our country will be celebrating Pride Month and LGBTQ rights, a movement that was catapulted by the Stonewall riots, in response to police officers harassing queer people in a public bar.
State violence has made freedom impossible
If these civil rights movements can be admired by history for their act of rioting, Black civil rights movements must have their fight, too. James Baldwin used a Revolution-era slogan to illustrate this in a 1964 interview.
“When any white man in the world says ‘give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one.”
The white community has no place to condemn the Minneapolis riots when Black Lives Matter is facing a weaponized institution of order that disproportionately abuses and incarcerates them. The riots are still an act of protest to the injustice of George Floyd, and the injustices of racism in our country.
In a 1963 speech Malcolm X argued that drafted Americans and government forces are trained in violence to protect their country.
“If it is right for America to teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right to defend our own people right here in this country.”
This is manifesting through the Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis.
State violence still makes freedom impossible
Early Saturday morning, the Pentagon ordered active-military police units to ready themselves for deployment into Minneapolis under the Insurrection Act of 1807, an action not invoked since the Los Angeles riots in 1992 following the beating of Rodney King.
This drastic escalation of force is the federal government’s choice to deploy soldiers to harm protesters, not protect them. President Trump himself said and later defended saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” in an apparent threat to his fellow American civilians.
No person should have to defend their physical safety in the presence of a police officer — especially during a public health crisis, where we are globally fighting a novel respiratory illness — for fear of unlawful injury or death. But this is the reality of societal and legal systems that oppress Americans of color. This is the reality we are protesting.
We condemn the institution of police brutality. Like all Iowans and American should, we join our Black peers to demand a deep reform of the U.S. police force. This includes swift and certain legal accountability for every officer who abuses their authority. This includes more robust prevention and education efforts across our justice system. This includes every single one of us fighting for the American promise that all humans are created equal.
Until that promise is kept, there is no justice. And as long as there is no justice, there can be no peace.
Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.
Editorial board members are Sarah Watson, Elijah Helton, Brooklyn Draisey, Becca Bright, and Peyton Downing.