Over the weekend, Representative Ilhan Omar, a left-leaning Minnesota Democrat, lamented, “Every single fire set ablaze, every single store that is looted, every time our community finds itself in danger, it is time that people are not spending talking about getting justice for George Floyd.”
Once the fires are out, what is the best way to secure justice? The most promising national debate about Floyd and policing reform would reflect three realities: large majorities of Americans oppose riots; the public is deeply divided in its attitudes toward policing and race; despite those disagreements, large majorities favor specific reforms that would reduce police killings.
Opposition to riots is broad. On the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Gallup noted that 73 percent of white Americans and 92 percent of black Americans believed that the not-guilty verdict in the trial of the police officers who beat Rodney King was unjustified, but that “nevertheless, 75% of blacks joined 79% of whites in calling the violence unjustified.”
Already, black elected officials who are accountable to large black constituencies are lauding peaceful protests and condemning violence. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta delivered a scathing denunciation of the cops who killed Floyd, immediately followed by scathing denunciations of violent unrest:
What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta. This is not a protest … This is chaos. A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn’t do this to our city. So if you love this city, this city that has had a legacy of black mayors and black police chiefs and people who care about this city––where more than 50 percent of the business owners in metro Atlanta are minority business owners––if you care about this city, then go home.
You’re not honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement. You’re not protesting anything running out with brown liquor in your hands, breaking windows in this city. T.I. and Killer Mike own half the west side! So when you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community. If you want change in America, go and register to vote. Show up at the polls. That is the change we need in this county. You are disgracing our city. You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country. We are better than this. We’re better than this as a city.
On Saturday, Omar held a press conference in Minneapolis during which she inveighed against rioting and discussed the hard work of so many in the community to build minority-owned businesses in the Lake Street corridor—where some of those same businesses had just burned. “We can be angry; we can ask for justice; we can protest; we can take it to the streets. What we cannot do is start a fire,” she said. “If you care, again, about black lives, you cannot set a fire in Minneapolis risking black lives.”