Over the past few weeks, there have been protests across the nation and throughout the world against police brutality and institutional racism. The protests began in Minneapolis, MN, and were provoked by the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. This has been the most recent case in a series of racist murders, including those of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Though the majority of the protests have been peaceful, the riots that occurred the first week of protests generated a lot of discussion throughout social media. Many people within the Latino community criticized the violence and vandalism the protests allegedly caused. They critiqued the fact that some businesses had been destroyed, publicly asking, without attempting to sympathize with the Black community, how is it that these protests would achieve a solution?
This bothered me, as it reflected the anti-Blackness that exists within the Latino community. By focusing on the violence of the protests instead of the violence by police, these people were contributing to the racism that exists in the United States.
Let me explain.
To begin, focusing on the rioting instead of the peaceful protests demonstrates that you have made no effort to understand the anguish the Black community feels right now after more than 400 years of institutional racism.
The first enslaved African landed in North America in 1619. The emancipation of enslaved people in the United States didn’t occur until 1863. After emancipation, Black people still experienced segregation, mass incarceration, and public lynchings. On most occasions, the system institutionally prevented many of them from purchasing private property, attending universities, and obtaining well paying positions.
In 1921, a prosperous African American city named Tulsa was destroyed by white racists. During the Civil Rights movement, when Black people were peacefully protesting against discrimination, the police utilized dogs, firefighter hoses, and violence to suppress the protests.
In the late 1960’s, several Civil Rights policies were passed that increased Black people’s rights on paper. However, discrimination still continues to this day. Black people are disproportionately incarcerated, their communities have less resources than predominantly white communities, and they are more likely to be killed by the police than any other race.
For over 400 years, racism and discrimination against Black people in this country has been severe.
Now imagine, if after so much struggle, the police killed your son just for being on the train, like what happened to Oscar Grant. Imagine if police killed your daughter inside of her own house while she slept despite being a medical technician with no criminal record and not being the person they were looking for, as happened to Breonna Taylor. Imagine the anguish and the pain caused by the loss. Imagine the anger you’d feel if that loss had been caused by an unjust murder. Imagine feeling that pain on so many occasions like the Black community has done after 400 years of struggle. People protesting are not criminals. They are broken hearted victims of the repression and discrimination that still exists after struggling for so long and in so many different ways.
Thus, by focusing on the violence of the protests instead of the institutional racism and police brutality that caused them, you invalidate the deep anguish that millions of people in this country, throughout the world, and in our community constantly feel. To invalidate that experience is to justify a system that is fundamentally racist; to justify such a system is to be racist.
Secondly, many people in the Latino community said they were against vandalism, the looting of stores, and the destruction of private property. With more context however, you’ll realize that these people aren’t against violence. They are only against it when it is conducted by non-white people. This is racism.
I’ll elaborate. The wealth of Europe and the United States was accumulated precisely because of the vandalism, looting, and destruction of the Americas.
The United States was able to expand because of the genocide they committed against Native Americans with the looting and the destruction of their land and culture. The wealth of the United States was largely accumulated because of the free labor of enslaved people from Africa. This is theft. Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. stole resources from Latin America, and caused much destruction in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, and Haiti, to mention just a few countries.
Most recently, the U.S. has destroyed Iraq, Afghanistan, and Venezuela. However, many of the people that criticized the protests would never criticize the United States. Thus, these people aren’t against vandalism, looting, or destruction. They are against them when they are done by non-white people.
To criticize violence when it is committed by non-white people, but to not criticize it when it is caused by a white state (U.S.), is to be racist.
Third, many in the Latino community questioned whether violence in protests would bring about any solutions. To this I respond with two things. Let’s remember first of all that the rights minorities have in this country were all achieved with violence, with resistance. Our community has rights today because of this resistance. The United States, as well as every Latin American country, achieved their independence with violence. Why do we call these revolutionaries liberators, but we describe the current protests as disorderly?
My point here is that violence can produce positive change, so long as it’s intentional and in the name of justice, which is exactly the case with the current protests. In fact, they have already caused many positive changes, and they will continue to do so.
I’m not saying that every instance of violence was justified. I recognize that there is a lot of complexity to the topic. However, instead of using my energy to criticize a small portion of the protests, I’m going to use it to support the Black community.
It’s important for the Latino community to support the Black struggle. Besides being a righteous struggle, Blackness is an integral part of Latinidad. Thus, the Black struggle is the Latino struggle. Recognizing and confronting racism within our community is part of that struggle.
So let us recognize that criticizing these protests means negating the Black experience. It means negating the anguish the Black community has felt for over 400 years. To negate this experience is to be racist. Let us instead use our time and our energy to criticize the injustices of the police and institutional racism in the United States.
Daniel Marquez studies Political Economy at UC Berkeley and is a student researcher at the Latinx Research Center (LRC).