Protesters and police are both learning– and that’s good!

I was very sorry to hear that Raleigh, NC suffered pretty heavy vandalism and some looting in protests this weekend.  To my knowledge, Raleigh is a pretty good police force that does the right things the right way and is led by an African-American woman who I hear good things about (and has an MPA from my department!).  

As I’ve discussed with many, I’m so frustrated by the violence and looting (which I really think is, typically, truly just a handful of bad actors taking advantage of the situation) because it takes away from such an important message that, otherwise, would really be coming through loud and clear (and I think is coming through, just muddled by the damn vandalism and looting).

Obviously, the more thoughtful protesters absolutely realize the violence muddles their very important message.  And, the more thoughtful police departments recognize that they should absolutely be looking to de-escalate, not escalate, tense situations.  From what I’ve seen in my non-scientific survey, there was a lot less violence and mayhem in Tuesday protests.  I don’t know if Raleigh was representative in this way, but I sure liked what I read:

Police in downtown Raleigh took a dramatically different posture Tuesday toward the protesters who filled the city’s downtown streets for the fourth evening in a row with demonstrations against police brutality.

Officers in riot gear and National Guard troops in fatigues were relatively rare sightings. Officers put more distance between themselves and demonstrators than on previous nights, some of which were marked by repeated use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. And protesters were more focused on sharing personal stories of injustice and presenting demands than directly confronting police…

Most of the more than 1,000 protesters who came out Tuesday went home around 8 p.m., when a citywide curfew took effect for the second night.

But about 45 minutes later, about 100 sat in Lane Street in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Police cars circulated, periodically playing a recorded message telling protesters that they were violating curfew…

The Raleigh Police Department did not make any arrests, according to a news release sent shortly after midnight…

Police acknowledged protesters’ effort. After demonstrators at the State Capitol shouted, “kneel with us” in the afternoon, officers took a knee and were greeted with hugs. The gesture was a reference to Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality when he played football in the NFL.

State Capitol Police Chief Chip Hawley said officers took a knee to “show our deep and abiding respect for the value of all human lives.” …

“We hear you, and we understand your frustration,” Hawley said in an emailed statement. “We want you to know your voices and your message has not fallen on deaf ears. We understand we should be and want to be part of the solution to this problem.”

Raleigh police waiting in a line in front of the Raleigh Municipal Building did the same later in the afternoon. A group of protesters asked officers to kneel with them. Each officer took a knee for a few seconds. Some protesters shook hands with the officers. Others considered the act a publicity stunt and shouted insults.

National Guard troops were visible near the State Capitol, and police in riot gear could be seen in buses, but police and protesters never clashed. Raleigh police said they told protesters several times that they were in violation of the curfew but gave them an opportunity to voluntarily leave.

Hooray for all involved– that’s how it’s done!  I’d like to think that the protesters policed themselves of anybody tending towards violence (or maybe the violence-prone ones have already had their fill) and the police, this time, absolutely showed the restraint, flexibility, and thoughtfulness that the situation demands.  Hooray for them.  Nobody got hurt.  The important message of the protesters was not diminished by violence, and the police showed that they can behave with restraint and proper discretion.

Again, this was just Raleigh, but I’d like to think both protesters and police forces around the country and both adapting in this way.  The message is out there.  I truly believe we are undergoing a shift that will actually result in better policy for better policing in the future, but that shift means the focus is on peaceful protests and the message of ending police brutality, not on riots, vandalism, and looting, which, if even a tiny fraction of what happens, will, inevitably be what leads media coverage and thus the overall narrative.  


Raleigh Police Detective B.H. Winston, a veteran of 16 years, fist bumps Albert Fervily after having a conversation with Keesh Ormond, left and Dante Robinson following a rally at the Raleigh Municipal Building on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett RWILLETT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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