August 27, 2020

To the Black Lives Matter Folks: Don‘t Screw Things Up

 I am in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement. Blacks have suffered from seemingly racist policing in this country, in addition to suffering from multiple forms of systematic discrimination over nearly a century and a half. Demonstrations demanding change are unquestionably justified.

The best hope for change that makes black lives truly matter is the election of Joe Biden and Kamila Harris, along with Democrats running for the House and Senate. Ironically, recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations have the potential to play into the hands of the Trump/Pence ticket. Trump wants to be the law-and-order candidate, and his insincere promise to quell civil unrest could tip the election in his favor. This would be a disaster for blacks (and most of the rest of us). Four more years of Donald Trump could destroy our democracy.

Whereas it is important to exercise the right of protest, demonstrations must not be allowed to get out of hand and degenerate into rioting and looting. Although demonstrators have not necessarily been responsible for recent civil disturbances, it is critical that they not encourage violence, whether intentionally or not.

Here are some ideas about what Black Lives Matter leaders can do. They can make sure that, to the degree possible, no local laws are violated. Demonstrators should not carry weapons of any kind. As much as possible—this gets harder as the days get shorter—demonstrations should be limited to daylight hours. Signs are hard to read at night, and it is too easy for mischief to begin in darkness. Demonstrations should have a well-understood purpose and should have enforced start and end times. Operations that last into the night court trouble—trouble from demonstrators themselves, trouble from unsympathetic infiltrators, and trouble from the police. Specific members of the team should be tasked with looking for troublemakers, documenting problems on camera, and reporting misbehavior to the authorities.

If these rules make demonstrating less satisfying, so be it. We must show citizens, particularly white citizens, that we are determined to press for change to make our country better and that we are not trying to tear it down.

Please don’t give Donald Trump the one issue most likely to appeal to white voters, even those white voters leaning toward voting for the Biden/Harris ticket. As many have observed from both the Democratic and Republican perspectives, the 2020 election is likely to be the most important election of our lifetimes.

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