Vox: Riots, Arson, and Shootings Aside, Black Lives Matter Is Pretty Peaceful

Ferguson, Missouri Marks One-Year Anniversary Of The Death Of Michael Brown
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Vox has published a new defense of the Black Lives Matter movement which argues that, aside from a few riots, the group is “largely peaceful.”

The piece by German Lopez compares Black Lives Matter to the protest movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King. Lopez cites fears expressed by Robert Kennedy and others that King’s march on Washington would result in violence. Those fears led to preparations which, he says, “seem ridiculous” in retrospect. According to Lopez, Black Lives Matter is the same thing all over again:

The Black Lives Matter protests have been largely peaceful, resulting in violence in only a very few occasions: While the Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, protests resulted in some rioting, the marches and demonstrations in dozens of other cities were so peaceful and event-free that they by and large didn’t make the news.

This is not in any way an honest accounting of Black Lives Matter or its history as it relates to violence and anti-police behavior. To start with, it really ought to matter that the shooting of Mike Brown, which helped kickstart the movement, was badly misrepresented in the media for months. Not only was Brown not a helpless victim with his hands up in surrender, the evidence shows he fought with Officer Wilson and tried to grab his gun. He was shot dead moments later while charging back toward Officer Wilson. All of these details were confirmed by forensics and by (black) eyewitnesses. Shouldn’t a civil rights movement start with the truth?

In a sense, the real story of the Mike Brown shooting points to the nature of the movement it spawned. One day after the shooting, the very first protests devolved into a riot. Two dozen businesses were vandalized and looted with a focus on stores selling auto parts and cell phones. A QuikTrip corner market was burned down. Steve Crandell, who owns a glass company that was called in to replace shattered windows up and down Florissant Avenue, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “It looks just like a storm blew through here. A storm of people.”

The next night, shots were fired and police used tear gas to break up a crowd. The night after that, protesters were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who again used tear gas to disperse crowds. On Friday, the “mostly peaceful” crowd once again resorted to looting, breaking into the same small market Mike Brown had robbed shortly before his death.

In preparation for the weekend, the Governor announced a curfew and declared a state of emergency. But on the night of the 17th, there was more looting of multiple stores. Two days after announcing the curfew, Governor Jay Nixon called on the National Guard to help restore order.

The protests simmered throughout the months of September and October, which is not to say there was no violence. Protesters continued to throw rocks and bottles at police, and one officer was shot in the arm.

On November 19th, the FBI arrested two violent radicals who met at the Ferguson protests in August. Olajuwon Ali Davis and Brandon Orlando Baldwin would eventually plead guilty to buying guns and pipe bombs in a plot to target a police station or simply blow up the Ferguson police chief and the St. Louis County prosecutor. Both men were members of the New Black Panther Party. Davis had spoken at a public event about Mike Brown’s death.

Finally, on November 24th, an announcement was made that the grand jury would not indict Officer Darren Wilson. As the DOJ would later confirm in its exhaustive report, this was the correct decision based on the evidence. But that night, Brown’s stepfather reacted to the decision by screaming, “Burn this bitch down!” And that’s basically what happened. Protesters looted stores and fired innumerable shots, one of which struck a police officer in the arm. Both police cars and cars sitting in a dealership lot were burned. In all, Reuters reported, about a dozen businesses were burned down.

The grand jury decision also inspired protests in other parts of the country, some of which also became violent. In Los Angeles, a crowd of protesters threw bottles at police before swarming onto the 110 freeway and stopping traffic. In Oakland, rioters set fires and vandalized and looted a dozen local businesses. Three officers were injured but none seriously. Nearly 100 protesters were arrested.

Small protests in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York remained peaceful, but that, too, would change, at least in New York. On December 13 a NY resident uploaded video of a group of about 100 protesters chanting, “What do we want? Dead Cops!”

Then on December 20th, Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot two NYPD officers who were sitting in their patrol car. Before the shooting, Brinsley had attended Black Lives Matter marches and posted a message on Instagram which read, “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours…… Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMikeBrown.”

In March, two police officers were shot–one in the shoulder and one in the face–outside the Ferguson police station. A suspect, Jeffrey Williams, was arrested and claimed he had been shooting at someone other than the police. However, police confirmed he was there that night to be part of the protest.

And then in April, the same cycle began all over again after the death of Freddie Gray. Two weeks of looting, vandalism, arson, and bricks and rocks thrown at police in riot gear resulted in 113 injured officers, some of whom were hospitalized.

Just as it had with Ferguson, anger over Freddie Gray’s death spread to other cities. In Ferguson, three people were shot during protests, and some individuals threw rocks at police and police cars. In Denver, 11 out of a crowd of 100 were arrested for misdemeanors–plus one individual who was charged with assault for knocking a policeman off his motorcycle. In Philadelphia, a crowd of a few hundred skirmished with police who were trying to keep them from blocking a highway. In New York, there was some bottle throwing and attempts to block streets which resulted in the NYPD making 143 arrests. Other protests of a few dozen to a couple hundred people in Cincinnati, Washington, and Chicago remained peaceful and resulted in few arrests.

Last week, one day after the unprovoked murder of a white police officer by a black suspect in Texas, Black Lives Matter protesters in Minnesota were chanting, “Pigs in a blanket, Fry ’em like bacon.” Pigs in a blanket is a reference to police in body bags. In fact, the same phrase was used by Ismaaiyl Brinsley before he shot and killed NYPD officers Liu and Ramos.

Contrary to German Lopez’s claim that Black Lives Matter protests have been “largely peaceful,” the group’s history is a long list of riots, vandalism, looting, arson, random shootings, shootings targeting police, burned out cars, rocks and bottles thrown at cops resulting in over 100 injuries, blocked highways, death chants, and at least one bomb plot. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to say that’s the whole of the movement, but neither is it fair to minimize this litany of mayhem, as Lopez does, under the heading, “Protests aren’t perfect.”


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