At the moment you read this article, Hong Kong is in turmoil. Thousands of youthful demonstrators have taken to the streets in protest of the Chinese Communist Party, which is implementing unprecedented policies to encroach on Hong Kong’s sovereignty.
The tactics employed by these freedom fighters have been largely peaceful items such as marches, sit-ins and musical numbers. However, there has been aggression as well, with businesses and bureaucratic offices experiencing damage from more radical elements.
The whole scene is very similar to the American uprising over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people wrongfully killed by police.
In both instances, a grave injustice has brought about a popular movement, with the masses demanding change from government. Righteous anger has fueled unprecedented activism — mostly nonviolent — but also scenes of chaos and destruction.
Yet where the circumstances differ sharply is in how the Republican Party responded to them. Witness, for example, the behavior of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas. In November 2019, he wrote on Twitter, “The police violence against protesters in Hong Kong is unacceptable. We must support these brave individuals standing against Chinese Communist Party tyranny and pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.”
Now during our current domestic crisis, the senator’s perspective has been far harsher. Instead of recognizing the legitimate goals of American citizens calling for racial equality, Cotton argued in a New York Times commentary for sending in the Army to stop demonstrators with an overwhelming show of force. In this attitude he was joined by President Donald Trump, who has routinely condemned the protests as the work of radical thugs who must be dominated.
One must ask the inevitable questions: Why does our government refuse to honor its Black citizens fighting for justice, while heaping praise on people in foreign countries pursuing their rights? Why do we see dignity in the Hong Kong citizens sacrificing for democracy, but not in our fellow countrymen seeking the ability to feel safe in their society?
When that wicked police officer put his knee on George Floyd’s neck, he tore not just an innocent man’s soul from his body, but our very social contract. Millions looked at that harrowing footage, one of the most evil pieces of film in modern history, and realized something was amiss. A law enforcement apparatus capable of such an act needed to be held to account.
President Trump could have taken constructive action to heal the wound this tragedy created.
In such an environment, it is beyond comprehension to expect protesters to remain entirely peaceful, for at heart they are human beings, crying out in pain. And when that pain is responded to with brute force, devoid of compassion, rioting is an inevitable outcome.
Many have used the non-violent legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as a means of shaming folks who adopt more aggressive tactics. How dare anyone steal shoes from a Nike store, the argument goes. The civil rights movement never would have done that!
Such hectoring misses a crucial point: In the 1960s, we had noble men in government, good Republicans and Democrats, who were responsive to citizen demands. Our leaders took bold action to end segregation, secure voting rights and wage a war on poverty.
King could lead a nonviolent revolution because he could show that it worked and brought about tangible progress. This would not have been possible if our current president was presiding during the 1960s.
In order for a society to have peace, that notion must be embodied by the powerful. Trump should send in mediators from the Justice Department to our major cities, who could work with activists and local officials on restructuring police departments. He should convene a special session of Congress, speak to the anguish so many are currently feeling, and offer a list of transformative policies to ensure real progress.
He should, in other words, lead. Unfortunately, we are at a moment where expecting such basic behavior from the commander-in-chief is sadly too much to ask for.
After the countless number of deaths from police brutality, George Floyd’s passing was a breaking point. Seeing an innocent man have the life sucked out of him, as he cried for his mother, struck a deep chord in the American psyche.
Most marched nonviolently, chanting for justice at the night sky, hoping their countrymen and a watchful God could hear them. Some, seeing a member of their own race tortured to death, lost all faith and decided to destroy whatever property they could find.
It is up to all of us to reach out to both the peaceful and the disillusioned during this critical juncture in history.
At a certain point, Americans must abandon partisanship and simply act with love towards a Black community that has been so grievously harmed.
If we cannot do this, then all the hollowed-out buildings and emptied stores will be nothing more than a reflection of the vacancy in our own souls.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident.