I’m writing this on the fifth night of protests and riots in Minneapolis. We live relatively far away from the main sites of conflict with the police department, and having been staying home for pandemic and pregnancy reasons, we’ve been grateful to our friends on the ground for keeping us informed. For those of us who are able to keep at a distance from the acts of violence, it can be tempting to call them senseless: what is being accomplished by all this destruction of property?
The answer could easily be nothing. Perhaps enough time will pass that hot tempers will cool down, those few who are responsible for inciting the majority of the violence will be removed from the situation, the protests will evaporate, and life will go back to normal, such as it is. In this picture of the future, the violence will truly have been senseless, because it will have changed nothing.
But that is not the only possible outcome. If we use this opportunity to admit that the way the Minneapolis police force operates is not to value life, especially Black life, and to enact laws and fund programs that we know make a difference, then these riots and protests will have accomplished needed change. The violence will not have been senseless, because it will have done its job.
The difference between these two scenarios rests in how we respond to the rioters. Will we implore them to let life get back to normal, or will we hear that life-as-normal is unacceptable and act accordingly? The choice is ours.
For a rundown of evidence-based police reforms and their unsung successes in states across the country, see this thread by Samuel Sinyangwe, data scientist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, a platform for tracking police violence and collecting information on what can be done to stop it. Click through to read about what works and what doesn’t: