"Racism isn't getting worse, it's getting filmed," actor, Will Smith.
It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, following two nights of vandalism and property destruction in downtown and Buckhead to the north, as well as all across our nation., I am driving through along Marietta Street, passing CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park. The sidewalks still hold lingering protesters, mostly young, the crowd is very diverse, and most are quietly exercising their right to peaceful assembly.
There are really only two sounds permeating the area, both oddly out of place. Power drills at small businesses in almost every direction boarding up their windows, and helicopters overhead. And until the end of dusk and into nightfall, those sounds would remain loudest. On Monday, June 1, restaurants and bars across Georgia were given permission, while following a lengthy and enhanced set of sanitation guidelines to begin the process of re-opening. Roughly 46 percent of the unemployed across Georgia since mid-March are employed in the hospitality industry.
In Atlanta and elsewhere, thousands are legitimately protesting the recent and unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as many more who preceded them. Following months of near quarantine and lock-down, which has the nation on edge, minority communities are disproportionately being impacted by this pandemic, with a near majority of serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths arising primarily in under-served, black and brown communities. Only nursing homes and the medically fragile are succumbing in greater numbers to this virus. And in light of little being documentable fact and with conspiracy theories run amok, some begin to believe that the virus was intended to kill black people.
But after several nights of intentionally civil protests turning uncivil, with property damage, riots, and violence escalating, I will also share the observation of many protesters, media on the ground and local/state law enforcement. Most of the bad actors leading the charge of looting, defacing public property and physical assaults on police and National Guard members are not from around here.
On Friday evening as 10 Atlanta police squad cars were destroyed and set ablaze, 75 were arrested. The largest cluster of zip codes among those detained hailed from Chicago. All three nights, the crowd shifted from young, diverse and casually dressed, with shorts, flip flops and tennis shoes among the majority (wearing small masks as well), to what appear to be professional agitators, frequently dressed head to toe in black, with hoodies and bandanas, wraps or masks often leaving only their eyes visible. And instead of casual footwear, military issue boots with steel toes, all the better for breaking windows and windshields.
George Floyd was tragically murdered on Monday, as word spread across the nation on Tuesday, and yet we would somehow believe that Atlanta area college students and Millenials who were justifiably angered thought to hit Ebay or Amazon to order their gas masks, incendiary devices and large cans of spray paint by Wednesday via their Amazon Prime, for those tools of anarchy to arrive just in time for the first march and protests of Friday afternoon?
Sunday evening, while being interviewed by WSB-TV Action News, Ambassador Andrew Young, himself a lion of the Civil Rights movement spoke supportively to the protestors, while also noting that those seeking to become catalysts for anarchy and greater unrest were both usurping their message and platform, as well as inadvertently providing crowd cover for the anarchists. As is often the case, Ambassador Young made a very salient point.
In media photos and across social media, protestors with gas masks were visible, particularly after dark, and one smaller female protester, wearing a gas mask, picked up a tear gas canister, emitting tear gas, and tossed it back at local and state law enforcement who had just set off the canister, after the 9 p.m. curfew went into effect.
When this ends, hopefully soon, the costs of over-time and National Guard deployment necessary to quell riots and secure safety will come due, and those costs will be substantial. As we are still in this pandemic indefinitely, with government revenues gutted at all levels, where do you think we will have to go for budget cuts?
We don't have another generation to deal with these challenges, which are both systemic and real, now is the time to put the best minds in our nation together to re-build government standards, including policing, which do not treat or protect you differently simply because of your race, culture, gender, background or income. We can do this, and it's well past time.