Return of the ‘60s?

Videos show an alarming number of citizens and journalists assaulted and intimidated by police during protests, causing more anger. It could be a long, hot summer, similar to 1968.

During the 1960s civil rights protests throughout the South, the tide turned when images of police using tear gas, clubs, attack dogs, and fire hoses on demonstrators hit the evening news, shocking millions of viewers across the country.

Today, many people don’t focus as much attention on the evening news, but get more immediate updates in videos and social media feeds, often based on their political biases. And most aren’t shocked as easily. Therefore, it’s harder to arouse indignity about a cause, although the video showing George Floyd’s vicious death at the knees of Minneapolis police certainly mobilized many more people to take action against the societal racism and institutional brutality that have occurred for centuries.

Even so, a significant amount of people — mostly Trump supporters — remain unmoved, ignoring the problems. Only 29 percent of Republican voters said they were more concerned about Floyd’s death than protests that have been marked by police and demonstrators violence, compared with 81 percent of Democrats, according to an NBC News poll released June 7. Some GOP officials have even claimed the death of Floyd was staged just to hurt Trump.

In an alarming trend, police are making the protesters’ case about brutality better than they do, giving many people firsthand experience. Many are first-time white protesters getting quite the educational experience into how many black Americans live. The stories of police attacks are heart-breaking, the videos difficult to watch.

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Police at a Los Angeles shopping center point weapons at unarmed citizens during a Black Lives Matter protest. [Photo by Joseph Ngabo/ Unsplash]

In Washington, D.C., park police attacked Black Lives Matter peaceful protesters without warning, firing pepper balls that contained a chemical irritant similar to tear gas. The pepper spray pellets were fired at about the same speed as rubber bullets and can cause even greater pain on impact. In 2004, a Boston officer killed a young woman by hitting her in the eye with one.

In Columbus, Ohio, 20-year-old Sarah Grossman died on May 30 after getting tear gassed by police. Tear gas was outlawed in international warfare in 1997 but still deemed legal to use by US police on citizens. While the official cause of death was pending an autopsy, she died not long after she attended the protest where police gassed participants. She had earned an honors degree in environmental science at Ohio State and planned to pursue work promoting sustainable environmental and land use policies that aided lower-income people.

In Louisville, restaurateur David McAtee was killed after local police and Kentucky National Guard curfew patrol fired shots into a crowd. Police claimed McAtee fired first, but a video raised questions about that.

In Austin, police shot three people with either rubber bullets or lead-pellet bags during protests. One was a pregnant woman, Saraneka “Nemo” Martin, who was shot in the stomach. Justin Howell, 20, and Brad Ayala, 16, had to be hospitalized after being shot in the head. They were in critical condition before stabilizing. A video shows police firing shots at people carrying Howell to try to get first aid.

In Indianapolis, a black woman was apparently groped by an officer as he subdued her. When she broke free in apparent response to having her breast touched, several struck her with batons, and one smashed her face into the concrete. Another officer shoved a woman who asked why she was being struck to the ground.

In Buffalo, police shoved 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground, then ignored him and walked by as he bled from his ear apparently unconscious. Police initially claimed Gugino “tripped,” then admitted they lied after videos were released on social media. In Salt Lake City, an officer pushed down 67-year-old James Tobin, who was walking with a cane, then turned the other way.

In New York, videos showed police cruisers driving into a line of protesters, hitting several. In Los Angeles, police shot a wheelchair-bound man in the face with a rubber projectile. In Philadelphia, Officer Joe Bologna hit a 21-year-old student with a metal baton in the head, causing a wound that required at least 10 sutures. Much of Philly’s “finest” applauded him.

In Fort Lauderdale, an officer viciously shoved a young protester who was kneeling. In Minneapolis, police sprayed people standing at the side of a road with pepper gas as they drove by, and even fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a medical tent that was clearly marked with red crosses. Medical supplies and food were ruined.

In Denver, police aimed projectiles such as rubber bullets at protesters’ heads and groins so much that a judge intervened. In Dallas, 26-year-old Brandon Saenz lost an eye after being shot by police with a rubber bullet at close range.

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Military police line up in Washington, D.C., before a protest. [Photo by Koshu Kunii/Unsplash]

Seattle police have received more than 12,000 complaints, from pepper spraying a young girl to placing knees on the neck of people as they were arrested. Police hit a young woman with a stun grenade, putting her in critical condition, and even kept firing at her when she was being treated by a medic.

Attacks have targeted actors, such as Kendrick Sampson, who says he was hit with batons and rubber bullets in Los Angeles. John Cusack said police attacked him with batons in Chicago, damaging his bicycle. Politicians like U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio have been pepper sprayed. Other videos show police attacking health care workers and stealing and damaging protesters’ water supplies. Trump officials have also called in many unmarked military forces to intimidate protesters in D.C., as well as helicopters that fly low and cause tree branches to fall on them.

Attorney T. Greg Doucette and mathematician Jason Miller listed more than 500 videos of police attacks in an online spreadsheet.

Many journalists have been targeted by police, as well. The US Press Freedom Tracker documented more than 400 incidents of assaults, arrests, and equipment damage in 64 cities, as reporters covered protests between May 26 and June 10. The most incidents occurred in Minneapolis [66], followed by D.C. [27], New York [23], and Los Angeles [19].

Attacks on the media by authorities have long occurred, including during civil rights protests in the 1960s and demonstrations against the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and 2015.

Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske said that on June 1 police fired rubber bullets and CS gas at her and photographer Carolyn Cole as they covered the Minneapolis protests. “They had these canisters of pepper spray that they were spraying in people’s eyes from, you know, less than an arm’s length away,” she said.

The police knew they were journalists, Hennessy-Fiske said. “We were not caught in the crossfire,” she said. “They pursued us.”

In Long Beach, an officer fired a rubber bullet into the throat of Southern California Public Radio reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez. In Minneapolis, police hit freelance journalist Linda Tirado in the eye with a rubber bullet or pellet, leaving her permanently blind in that eye. Police arrested numerous journalists even those who had large and clear media credentials.

You think that is a coincidence with Trump’s years-long campaign to discredit the media? I blame Trump and his administration more than the officers.

Police have hit protesters and journalists with more high-tech weapons than anything from the civil rights era, including flash-bang grenades, pepper balls, and various projectiles. The next thing will be to bring back attack dogs and fire hoses.

But protesters keep coming back. They give me hope more than any of the so-called “law and order” people who support Trump’s violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters — of which more than 90 percent are at these demonstrations. The law-and-order types are like those in the ’60s who stood with the racists and applauded protesters getting gassed, beaten, shot, fire-hosed, and bit by attack dogs. History will judge them harshly.

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How many weren’t filmed? Thank God for cellphone cameras. [Photo by Kevin Shay]

They give me hope more than any of those who ignore us in this battle for equality and “justice for all,” and against racism and police brutality, who think all this will magically go away. It’s been going on too long for that, from slavery to racist Jim Crow laws to lynchings to modern-day police lynchings.

Many blame peaceful protesters for somehow provoking violent responses, forgetting that if the politicians and police chiefs had really done their jobs for decades and implemented policies that didn’t result in ghastly actions like what happened to Floyd, such protests wouldn’t be necessary. Many cite white people killed by police and officers killed, including during the protests. Again, if the politicians did their jobs, rather than ignore the problems or commission a study, the protests wouldn’t be happening, at least not to such an intense degree. I myself covered unjust police killings of mostly minorities back in the ’80s. It’s been going on a lot longer than that.

Many officers have reached out to protesters and vice versa, taken a knee, talked openly with demonstrators, and made other conciliatory gestures. That’s great, and I’m careful not to blame all officers. Most are good and put in tough positions that they might not want to be in, such as the ones ordered by Trump and Barr to hit peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets for a photo op. But too many are escalating the situations, rather than calming them down, doing things like firing projectiles into people’s faces or groins, rather than at the ground. I’m sure some enjoy inflicting pain, especially if they are Trump supporters and see protesters as anti-Trump.

The bottom line is peaceful protesters and media professionals doing their jobs continue to get gassed and hit with various projectiles and batons in alarming numbers. Go to YouTube to see the videos if you don’t believe me. Thank God for cellphone cameras to document this, or a lot of people wouldn’t believe what is happening. The regular media can only do so much, especially in an era of extreme budget cuts and hostility.

We know this has got to change. If not now, when? With the coronavirus situation causing some societal changes, we have a chance to go even further and rebuild much of our society to better ensure “justice for all.” We can’t revert to the old way.

There are signs of change, promises by many officials to make reforms and do better. While some protesters pull down Confederate statues, recreating the 1776 scene when Patriot soldiers and civilians tore down a statue of King George III in New York, numerous cities have taken down such public reminders of racism on their own. Many police departments are implementing reforms. Schools are trying to figure out how to better teach civil rights and African-American history. As demonstrations extend beyond black neighborhoods to wealthy areas, those regions are forced to grapple with issues of equality. Even NASCAR banned the Confederate flag.

While it remains to be seen if any changes really last, the summer could stay heated, especially in an election year. It’s clear these issues aren’t going away.

Written by

Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG. Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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