By WIN GRUENING
Americans were horrified by the senseless killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Subsequently, Americans were horrified by the indiscriminate looting and vandalism that accompanied the demonstrations in scores of cities across our nation.
Sadly, the destruction, as well as the violence directed at police forces attempting to maintain order and protect lives and property, were dismissed by many in the media as an unfortunate by-product of frustration and anger of protesters.
To be fair, many peaceful demonstrators, black and white, decried the violence and attempted to prevent more destruction.
There were reports that organized extremists instigated looting and participated in burning down stores, churches, and even a police station.
Unable to distinguish between legitimate protesters and criminal vandals and looters, police were put in an impossible situation, and, in some cases, ordered to stand down while lawlessness prevailed, and cities burned.
In our country, peaceful protest is protected. All citizens have a right to be heard. But the message of the protesters was undermined by the violence and mayhem that occurred.
The media’s treatment of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, often describing them as mostly peaceful, while labeling nearby rioting mobs as “uprisings”, was clearly at odds with what America witnessed on their television screens.
Even more stark was the media’s selective reversal on Covid-19 mandates. Aided by politicians and talking-heads, organized BLM protests were enthusiastically endorsed throughout the media. In contrast, earlier public positions and protests by business-owners, churches, and organizations advocating for opening up the nation’s devastated economy were roundly condemned.
Both groups were exercising their 1st Amendment right to protest unwarranted or unlawful government authority. Yet, the reaction to them by the public, local authorities and the media was often diametrically opposed.
- Amid nation-wide coronavirus fears, citizens were publicly shamed for not wearing masks or observing social-distancing guidelines.
- After months of complying with hunker-down orders, financially strapped shop owners were arrested or cited for re-opening “non-essential” businesses. Their crime: allowing employees to go back to work in order to support their families.
- NY Mayor de Blasio directed the NYPD to arrest violators in large groups. “This is about stopping this disease and saving lives,” he said.
Black Lives Matter protests were treated quite differently.
- In a nation where funerals, church services, and large gatherings were prohibited, the massive demonstrations of people across America were given a pass. Many demonstrators openly ignored health warnings to wear masks or exercise social-distancing.
- Hollywood, predictably, joined the chorus of protesters and contributed money for funds to bail lawbreakers out of jail. There were few consequences for criminals – the few arrested were released within hours of their arrest.
- Two newspaper editors were forced to resign for daring to publish op-eds deploring the destruction or suggesting that federal troops be used to curb violence.
As protests continued, along with public memorial services for George Floyd, it became abundantly clear that Covid-19 mandates weren’t meant to be applied to everyone – just those not demonstrating for an acceptable cause. Governors and mayors across the country encouraged and joined the BLM protests – all the while insisting that other large gatherings remain strictly forbidden for health reasons.
Just weeks before, Alaska shop owners objecting to health mandates were widely criticized for “putting the lives of their fellow citizens at risk in the pursuit of profits.”
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who joined peaceful protests, also thought lives were at risk, but not in the way you might think. During a recent community radio address, he elevated Black Lives Matter protesters to hero status by saying “I see people who are risking their lives to protest…in spite of a pandemic”.
That comment diminishes the sacrifice of thousands of real heroes in our country’s history who risked and lost their lives defending the constitutional right of all Americans to protest.
The coronavirus doesn’t distinguish between conservative and liberal protests. According to some, apparently our 1st Amendment rights do.
The complex and deep-seated issues facing our country won’t be solved by quelling debate and limiting personal freedoms of those expressing opinions with which we disagree.
Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.