On April 11, President Joe Biden made his first public comments on the recent police shooting that fatally wounded unarmed Black man Daunte Wright. Before any sort of investigation had transpired, Biden was asked about whether he had reached out to Wright’s family. His response was mild-mannered and relatively contained, as we have come to expect from the sitting president.
However, his last few words were upsetting for the communities most affected by Wright’s murder.
“I want to make it clear again: there is absolutely no justification — none — for looting. No justification for violence. Peaceful protest? Understandable,” Biden said.
These comments are an attempt to prevent civil unrest after another tragic death at the hands of the police, but something about Biden’s words felt sinister.
In the summer of 2020, news media across the country were engulfed with stories of protests responding to the police shootings involving unarmed Black men and women. The protests became a political movement that divided many Americans, depending on where they get their news from.
This politicization of the protests sparked the conservative narrative that the protests were overwhelmingly violent. The reality was, however, that they were not, and conservatives merely wanted something to grab onto because they were uncomfortable with the movement. The summer protests were found to be roughly 93% peaceful, out of the thousands of demonstrations that took place from May 26 to Aug. 22. The notion that the protests were plagued with violence is simply false.
While President Biden may have not intended for his comments to imply that the protests have been violent, the language he used can be dangerous in furthering the narrative that the protests should not be allowed to continue.
Words matter, and we need to be careful about how we talk about racism and police brutality in this country. There are so many people who still refuse to believe these issues exist, and there are others intentionally slowing down racial progress and police reform through movements such as the “Blue Lives Matter” movement.
James Mitchell is a junior majoring in sports media and analytics. As a Black student, he understands that President Biden’s words can hold a lot of weight, but only for those who are listening.
“It’s all about perspective, you know,” Mitchell said. “For people who don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement, I feel like they won’t be very impacted by his words. But on the other hand, I feel like it is necessary to use his platform to address the police brutality issue because it will affect certain people.”
Shifting the focus onto civil unrest and not the structural issues at hand is disingenuous and ultimately insidious. If someone’s first response to the murders of Daunte Wright, George Floyd or Breonna Taylor is to point out the issues within the protests, they are focusing on the response to the problem and ignoring the root of it.
The issue of police using excessive violence against the Black community is hardly new. If you are someone who struggles to understand why these massive protests are taking place, it is time to do some research of your own.
When Colin Kaepernick knelt before an NFL game to bring awareness to police brutality against African Americans, he was vilified for his form of peaceful protest, clearly stemming from the discomfort that many white people have had with the movement in general. Kaepernick showed that those who don’t support a movement will always find fault in it, even if that means they have to find a way to become outraged over a man kneeling silently.
The President calling for peace makes sense, but buffering calls for peace with pleas to avoid violence implies a lack of trust in the Black community. Biden asking for people to stop looting before it even occurs is tone-deaf and signifies a failure to understand the situation. He should have been centered on calling on police to de-escalate situations more effectively going forward. Instead of addressing the thousands of protestors, addressing the police and their role in the violence would have been more effective. Over the course of last summer’s peaceful protests, it was evident that the police did not succeed in keeping things calm.
Christiansburg resident Jalen Koonce attended multiple Black Lives Matter protests last summer in several cities, including Roanoke, Radford, Myrtle Beach and South Carolina. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests he attended, Koonce claims he witnessed the police make multiple arrests.
Koonce responded to the question of whether he believed that the police contributed to the violence that occasionally took place during peaceful protests.
“I do believe the cops, in general, had something to do with it,” Koonce said. “We are just tired of our color being treated as a crime. The cops are here to make us feel safe and protected, right?”
Those who want to keep Black people oppressed in this country are looking for evidence and reasons to diminish the issues they face. When a politician who campaigned on a promise that “Black lives matter” acts as if the Black community cannot handle their own peaceful protests, it slows down the progress that needs to be made.
Last Tuesday, on April 20, Derek Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. This was a major win in the movement toward fixing the racial injustices in this country. The emotional trial left many feeling that justice had been served.
The outcome of this trial signifies progress but it does not mean any issues have been fully resolved.
Legislative change is necessary in order to create peace between members of the Black community and law enforcement, but communication and choosing our words carefully can make a real difference — especially from our leaders who set the tone of our nation.