Roy Exum: These Riots Are Surreal

Sunday, May 31, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

On Monday, when an unarmed black man was killed by a white policeman in Minneapolis, there were 28 others, predominately black, shot within the city limits of Chicago on the very same day. The “Bloody Monday” came after 50 others in Chicago were shot (10 fatally) during the Memorial Day weekend – that’s 78 human beings in just four days – and since “Bloody Monday” through 6 o’clock yesterday, this week’s tally has risen to 94 people shot, 18 of them dead. What if we could get those across America who are protesting so wrongly that they are willing to break laws to protest Chicago’s bloodshed? I have the strong belief the admittedly atrocious deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Ahmaud Arbery in southeast Georgia will be handled properly and rightfully but I also suspect this singular week of riots will hamper race relations in our nation for quite some time.

With the most volatile night of the year expected last night in Chicago, the month of May figures, with one day remaining, reveal 327 have been shot this month and 62 of them are dead.

For the year 2020? There have been 1,099 people shot, 223 fatally, in Chicago but now the day-after-day gun fights in Chicago have become so ho-hum we don’t even hear about it on national news. I was reminded of the emotionally wracked member of Floyd’s family who said in one TV clip: “It’s like a black man’s life has no worth.”

Three or four years ago, when there was a shooting in Chattanooga, it was front page news. Now it’s become so commonplace it’s not even on the 6 o’clock news. Protests have become riots. All over the country it’s as though Floyd’s death has given rabble-rousers permission to confront police in a senseless way, to burn police cars, and since the majority are angry blacks, it has deflated all hope of a lawful democracy. In Atlanta Friday night, there was wide-spread looting and such a vivid scorn for a police uniform Governor Kemp has called out the National Guard. The governors of Tennessee, Minnesota and Kentucky have done the same thing.

This is absolutely surreal. This IS today in the United States of America. Thousands have now been arrested. For protesting? No … because they each committed a crime. The nationwide devastation is at a cost of many millions, this as COVID-19 races like wildfire. And our black leaders are already sensing the backlash. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and other civil rights leaders were saddened and stunned.

“This is not a protest,” Bottoms said during an emotional news conference late Friday. “This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos. A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn’t do this to our city. You are disgracing our city. You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country.”

But nowhere were the flames of racial hatred stroked with more anger than in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is black, failed to mention the 100 shootings of blacks and Hispanics in her city in the past week because she was too consumed by her anger. She blamed everything on the President as this excerpt from Saturday’s Chicago Tribune shows:

* * *

“HERE’S WHAT I REALLY WANT TO SAY … “

[NOTE: This story was written by Chicago Tribute writer Terrence Antonio James following a news conference on May 22, 2020,at Chicago’s City Hall.]

“CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday ripped President Donald Trump, saying he’s fomenting violence and playing to racist urges for political gain in response to the killing of a black man by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent rioting.

“Lightfoot’s comments were an apparent response to Trump tweeting a message that included “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” in reply to rioting in Minneapolis and elsewhere following the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck while he was in custody. Lightfoot said the president cannot be allowed to divide and destabilize the country.

“He wants to show failures on the part of Democratic local leaders, to throw red meat to his base,” Lightfoot said in opening remarks at an afternoon news conference. “His goal is to polarize, to destabilize local government and inflame racist urges. We can absolutely not let him prevail. And I will code what I really want to say to Donald Trump. It’s two words. It begins with F and it ends with YOU.”

Asked later whether she should have used that language toward Trump, in light of former first lady Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” mantra, Lightfoot didn’t back down.

“I don’t take the bait every time, but this time, when we are suffering pain and trauma at the killing of a black man in the street, to try to, for political gain, and blow the dog whistle to his base, I’m a black woman, and a leader, and I feel an obligation to speak out when something as offensive as that is said by anyone, but particularly the president,” she said. “And I make no apologies whatsoever for my word choice, and the way in which I’m calling him out for what he said.”

The angry reaction to Trump from Illinois Democrats wasn’t contained to City Hall.

“From the very moment that I announced my decision to run for governor three plus years ago, I said that this president was a racist, misogynist, homophobe, a xenophobe, and I was right then and I’m right now,” the state’s embattled Gov. J.B.Pritzker said. “His tweets, his reaction, his failure to address the racism that exists in America, his stoking of the flames in sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, ways is completely unacceptable. It’s reprehensible, in fact.” (Pritzker is being heavily blamed for the fact Illinois is teetered on what some say is certain bankruptcy. His efforts to get federal aid were rebuffed by Trump about a month ago.)

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement that she’s “disgusted by our president’s hateful and racist rhetoric in the wake of the uprisings in Minneapolis.”

And Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released a statement saying there’s “a pervasive and tragic history of racism in our country, and a United States president who provokes it.”

“As we grieve Mr. Floyd’s death, President Trump is inciting violence against the protesters,” Preckwinkle said. “We cannot stand idly by as he does this, and must affirm the right to peaceful, open protests of police brutality.”

Trump later tweeted again, saying in two tweets: “Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night — or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means … It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!”

* * *

At 8 p.m. last night, a “breaking news story” flashed across the Tribute wire: “After intense skirmishes overnight, a Loop protest has escalated with thousands of demonstrators marching, burning at least one flag, climbing onto a CTA bus and a light pole, hurling bottles and surrounding police officers on Saturday afternoon.

“The crowd, which had swelled to around 3,000, began their demonstration at Federal Plaza at 2 p.m. in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Later Saturday afternoon, crowds of protesters made their way onto Lake Shore Drive and shut down portions of the roadway.

As of 3:30 p.m., hundreds were marching north, and became more and more raucous, even hostile, throwing fireworks, bottles, and reportedly a liquid near officers. Some also began tagging buildings, cars and a bus shelter. There was at least one report of injuries to police, including a sergeant who had broken his arm near Trump Tower.

Protesters began cheering as several somehow hopped onto a No. 151 bus, carrying flags. The bus, which was halted, was occupied by a driver, and did not appear to have many passengers.

At one point, protesters gathered on three sides of a police vehicle that was backing up on Dearborn Street and confrontations had broken out between officers and protesters as a police car tried to roll down Monroe Street in the Loop.

Later, police and protesters clashed just outside of Trump Tower when officers wearing helmets and carrying batons pushed protesters out of the way of a police vehicle.

Deandre Washington, 27, gathered early at Federal Plaza before the protest officially began, and said he was “mad as hell” when he saw the video that showed Floyd’s death. As a black man in Chicago, he fears being the victim of police violence on a daily basis.

“I worry every g** damn day,” Washington said.

By 4 p.m., the crowd had broken up into several groups heading in different directions, including Trump Tower, which became especially chaotic with some throwing bottles and fireworks at officers.

Along State Street going north, marchers chanted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “I CAN’T BREATHE,” most of them donning masks and many hoisting signs that read “DEFUND THE POLICE” and “JUSTICE FOR FLOYD.”

People standing on the sidewalk who appeared to not be part of the protest apparently posed for pictures with the marchers in the backdrop. Some passing vehicles honked their horns in apparent support of their protesting.

At one point, someone threw a drink at a police squad car.

Along the Magnificent Mile, a marcher could be seen later wearing a mobile stereo around his neck, as the song “Fight the Power” by famed rap group Public Enemy blared from it. At the same time church bells sounded from the Fourth Presbyterian Church.

Zach Daniels, 20, was marching late Saturday afternoon.

“I’m really tired of seeing racial injustice across our country,” said Daniels, who is a student at Moody Bible Institute.

As the March moved to East Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, one person can be heard shouting, “SHUT DOWN LAKE SHORE DRIVE.”

Shortly thereafter, the crowd began to enter the outer drive through a northbound entrance ramp.

“GEORGE FLOYD! GEORGE FLOYD!” they chanted.

A 27-year-old woman who identified herself as Lola was marching on southbound Lake Shore Drive as it was shutting down. She said she came out to “bring representation.’’

“To make sure the people who are murdered by cops have a voice and the best way that I know how to do that is leverage my white privilege and I think it’s important to protect all black people no matter their background or their behavior or where they grew up. ‘’

By 5 p.m., officers had responded to at least a dozen calls of 10-1, a police emergency, as they worked to control the crowd, some reportedly trying to overturn a Chicago police car, others trying to hop onto another CTA bus and some of whom were fighting with officers.

Also as of that time, officials had closed the Ohio and Ontario feeder ramps going in and out of the downtown Chicago area.

Additionally, ramps to the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) had been closed and the CTA temporarily suspended Red Line service between Clark/Division and Sox-35th stations.

Earlier, officials asked protesters in Chicago to remain peaceful as demonstrations are expected to continue throughout the weekend over the death of Floyd.

Speaking at a service event on the South Side on Saturday morning, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot decried the actions of the officers in Minneapolis.

“I understand and I feel the pain and anguish the killing of George Floyd has evoked all over this country,” Lightfoot said.

She referenced the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, calling it a “painful period we experienced as a city.”

“We have lost too many people to violence in the city. It wasn’t just Laquan McDonald,” she said.

When asking protesters to stay peaceful, Lightfoot criticized President Donald Trump's response to protests in Minneapolis, saying, "it's not easy when we have a president who is inciting violence."

“Let’s be better than him,” said Lightfoot, who also urged residents that COVID-19 “isn’t gone from Chicago” and that they should wear masks while protesting.

Earlier, Brown said there were about 108 arrests made in connection with the protests Friday and early Saturday.

Among those arrested was someone who faces pending gun charges.

"Many came to the downtown area in Chicago last night," Brown said. "The protesting early on started peacefully and ended more aggressive and intense."

* * *

In Nashville, a Saturday protest that included upwards of 10,000 turned mean quickly, and police said “multiple arrests” had been made before nightfall. Similar reports were made in over 20 cities on Saturday and state officials across the nation anticipated “a long night.”
 

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