Remember the Innocent – and Speak Up for Them

by Heather Robinson

This has been a brutal summer in America. We should remember what happened, all that happened. All of the unjust death and grievous injury, all of the violence, starting, but not ending, with the killing of George Floyd.

We should remember that the innocent paid a terrible price this summer. They paid for other people’s anger – some justified, but all too often irresponsibly channeled. They paid for others’ brutality, for others’ fanaticism, self-centeredness, and moral bankruptcy. They are still paying, and will pay for many years to come.

Let’s remember the name of George Floyd, and let’s remember, too, the names of some of the other human beings lost in protests that all too often turned into riots, as well as those innocents who died as gang shootings surged across America in the climate of Black Lives Matter’s “Defund the Police” initiative. Let’s remember those who have been killed or injured by ANTIFA’s opportunistic, vicious assaults on America’s cities.

The nation deeply mourned George Floyd, and that was fitting. But how do we express our grief, and frustration, and deep outrage on behalf of other innocent Americans who also died or were gravely, unjustly injured this summer in riots that grew out of protest to honor human life? George Floyd’s death was terrible, tragic, and unjust. The tape of what happened to him opened the eyes of many Americans to the reality that police brutality is a more widespread problem than we knew, and it is unacceptable. But so is targeting of police officers for violence unacceptable. And so are the deaths of the innocent killed when the police stand down unacceptable. Floyd’s was not the only terrible, unjust and tragic death this summer.

What are we to do or say when millions turn out to honor a man’s life and to protest a serious problem – police brutality – but refuse to look at the violence being inflicted on other innocent human beings, most of them Black – either directly, if they are in law enforcement, or indirectly, as a result of the chaos unleashed by organized efforts to demonize all law enforcement, attack police officers, and promote, or at the very least, fail to oppose, lawlessness that spread throughout America’s streets this summer?

This season’s dead and grievously wounded are numerous. This post doesn’t attempt to be anything remotely approaching comprehensive, only a partial and imperfect expression of grief.

That first weekend of protests alone, at least seven people were killed, most of them Black men, in clashes between police and protestors. Among those killed were law enforcement officers targeted in the line of duty.

Federal Protective Officer Dave Patrick Underwood and his partner were guarding a federal courthouse amid protests in Oakland, Ca on May 29th when a gunman opened fire, killing Underwood and gravely wounding his partner in what authorities describe as a “targeted attack on law enforcement.” A former star student athlete at Pinole Valley High School, where his memorial service was held, Underwood, 53, was eulogized by his community as respectful, friendly, and helpful.

“He died with honor,” said his sister, Angela Underwood Jacobs. “He died with dignity. And he died with respect for the people in the community he loved to serve.”

Underwood’s family asked that people not paint law enforcement with too broad a brush, saying that Underwood went into the field to help people.

“Patrick was murdered by the blind violence of hatred, ignorance, fear, and discrimination,” said Underwood Jacobs.

David Dorn, 77, retired police captain, former chief of police in Moline Acres, Missouri, and grandfather of 10, was shot and killed while responding, as a volunteer, to an alarm at his friend’s pawn shop during the riots in Saint Louis on June 2nd. Perhaps because his son was quoted as saying Captain Dorn would have likely forgiven his killers, his murder was featured more prominently in national news than those of other Americans who died in the riots.

Dorn’s son Brian Powell urged rioters to take a “step back” and reflect on what they are doing, saying he believed that’s what his father, a 40-year-law enforcement veteran with a sustained commitment to encouraging Black youth to become police officers, would have wanted.

“[He] was real big on trying to talk to youth,” said Powell. “And mentoring people. He tried to get them on the straight and narrow.”

On the Las Vegas Strip on Monday June 1st, in the midst of a protest against police brutality, a man holding a gun in both hands aimed it at Officer Shay Mikalonis, 29, and shot him in the head, grievously wounding him. Doctors expect this young man, a 4-year-veteran of the force with a spotless record who, according to his father, sustained this grievous injury “doing the job he loved,” will be permanently paralyzed from the neck down. At 29 years old. Please contemplate that for just a moment of your life as you consider the totality of what has occurred this summer.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, in the climate of BLM’s “Defund the Police” initiative, at least 47 people were shot to death in American cities – about twice the number killed over the same summer weekend last year. Most were Black, many were children. In Atlanta, where groups were camped out in a Wendy’s parking lot to protest the death of Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police, someone opened fire on a car pulling into the Wendy’s driveway, killing 8-year-old Secoriea Turner as her mother tried to turn the car around. In Chicago, Sincere Gaston, age 20 months, was shot in his car seat as his mother drove to the laundromat. These are just two of the many children cut down this summer. In New York City, in the wake of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s removal of some 600 plainclothes NYPD officers who target violent crime – widely viewed as a concession to BLM’s “Defund the Police” initiative – the city saw a dramatic surge in gun violence throughout July, with a one-year-old boy, Davell Gardner Jr., shot to death as he sat in his stroller at a family cookout.

In the words of Davell’s grandmother, Samantha Gardner,  “For the cowards that did this, you should be ashamed of yourself because everybody talk about Black Lives Matter.

“What about baby lives? What about teenager lives? Like, you took an innocent child from [his] mother and father as well as the grandparents. I don’t think it’s fair.”

As police departments have stood down in a climate of mass anger toward uniformed officers, the surge in violence in New York and across the country has only continued. Again, many of the victims are children.

In the West, where federal agents have been deployed to deal with violent rioting that has rocked the city of Portland for 56 days, three federal agents have likely been permanently blinded by ANTIFA protestors using lasers directly pointed at their eyes.

As I’ve watched this parade of human suffering over the past weeks, I have tried to keep in mind that I’m not out in the streets with the protestors, and I’m seeing and hearing the worst, not the best, of them. I realize from friends who have attended that some protestors are deeply moved by their sense of justice and need for police reforms. I, too, was horrified by what happened to George Floyd. His death was terrible in and of itself, and is reflective of what has happened for a long time to many other Black Americans in dealing with some law enforcement. I am for community/police cooperation and understanding. I’ve told myself that the vast majority of the protestors are peaceful. But if that is true, at this point, are they not horrified by the violence taking place? Is this a humanitarian movement for social justice, or simply a violent political power struggle?

Think of the many people, adults and especially the children, who have been hurt, some irrevocably, over these past weeks in the chaos that came out of protests turned to riots. Consider: Martin Luther King Jr. warned us about a cycle of violence.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

Real life is not the movies. In real life, when vigilantes and mobs go out to get “justice,” it’s the generally the innocent, not the guilty, who suffer. What Dr. King warned us about has manifested this summer. Have we not learned a thing?

I keep thinking of a phrase from the Hebrew Bible (for Christians, the Old Testament), “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

At this point, claiming the protests are peaceful, or counting oneself among the “peaceful” protestors who, intentionally or not, provide cover for others to target or provoke police officers (most of whom are not bad people, and who are also human), to attack businesses, and worst of all, to commit acts of random, opportunistic violence, which is easier to get away with in a chaotic, anti-police atmosphere, amounts to standing idly by, or to something worse – lending tacit support to the sacrifice of the innocent.

We need to say no to violence, no matter who is dishing it out. That principle applies across the political spectrum. This isn’t about skin color, or political party. It’s about human decency and seeing clearly beyond our own paradigms. We should all be concerned for children before our own grown selves, frankly. In the words of Davell Gardner Jr.’s father, Davell Gardner Sr. (pictured above with his son), whose voice pricked my conscience to write this:

“These guys took my son’s life. For what? He didn’t do nothing to nobody. I can’t hold him no more, I can’t hear him call me ‘Daddy’ no more. I can’t kiss him no more. I can’t play with him no more.

“I’ve got to put my son in the ground now and he’s only one. His birthday is in two months. He didn’t live to see two. He didn’t live life.”

“I wanted to get him out of this violence before something like this happened.”

It’s past time for responsible, grownup Americans of every race and political persuasion to speak up. Police brutality is wrong, but so are mayhem and indiscriminate violence. To bring these and other dangers under control, for the sake of the nation’s children, we need decent police. The confused people and gangsters can’t have the streets, and the violence has to stop. So does the absurd idea that we should “Defund the Police.” Reform the police, educate the police, help the police to learn to do their jobs better and work better within communities, and if they are abusive, prosecute them. But in the words of Bernie Sanders (a politician with whom I agree about little else): “Anyone who thinks we should abolish all police departments in America, I don’t agree. There’s no city in the world that doesn’t have police departments.” Anyone who defends such irresponsible policy, or demonizes and dehumanizes police officers, is defending brutality, not protesting it. It’s the innocent who are paying the price for your fanaticism and confusion.

It’s irresponsible and cowardly to encourage, rationalize, or excuse violence, including riots, or any protest that does not adhere strictly to the principle of nonviolence. If you do, you’re egging on violence against the innocent and their neighborhoods.

Otherwise, it should be honestly acknowledged these protests, and the movement, are no longer about lives. Not anymore.