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Black Lives Matter, policing protests, civil discourse

By June 5, 2020September 8th, 2020No Comments

by Kassandra Lau/Arizona Public Radio

With a statewide curfew in effect, demonstrations persisted in Tucson in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Various protests are also calling attention to systemic racism in the United States. Arizona 360 heard from community organizer and Black Lives Matter Tucson member Lola Rainey about the outcry.

“The soul of America has been dead and that’s why you have people in the streets. We’re saying, ‘You cannot continue to extract all this from us and then deny us the ability to live, to breathe,’” Rainey said. “What kind of world can we exist in if we are not allowed to even breathe, to even walk down the street without being profiled and murdered by state agents.”

Rainey said that unless effective change happens, protests concerning racial injustice will continue to destabilize the country.

“It cannot be a world leader with all this internal turmoil and conflict. How can you maintain social order when there’s that type of resentment and anger?” Rainey said. “I think we have the ability to survive this and come out better, but it’s up to us.”

Tucson Police arrested 19 people the first night of protests in response to George Floyd’s killing. Charges ranged from obstructing streets to aggravated battery on an officer. Police have also arrested about a dozen people for violating curfew. Christopher Conover spoke with Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus about the department’s response. Magnus said the curfew has been useful.

“I think we still have some tests ahead of us, but I think it’s safe to say it has been helpful,” Magnus said.

This week he attended a candlelight vigil for Floyd at the Dunbar Pavilion as an invited guest. He told Conover that he empathizes with their calls to end systemic racism and that the video of Floyd’s killing disgusted him. According to Magnus, officers are not trained to put their knees on peoples’ necks.

“It’s something that we look for in any situation where we have to use force to make sure that that force is not excessive or to make sure that officers are not going further than they need to go in terms of using the least amount of force necessary to make an arrest,” Magnus said.

On the issue of reform, Magnus supports possible revisions to qualified immunity which prevents officers and other government officials from being sued for actions they take on the job.

“I think there’s some reasons for qualified immunity, which are more complex sometimes than the public understands. But I think that immunity and the use of it may have gone too far at this point,” Magnus said.

Protests that began in the name of George Floyd also underscore long-standing issues with institutional oppression. To understand how previous moments have shaped policy and what it indicates about the current unrest, we got insight from University of Arizona sociology professor Jennifer Earl.

“Many of the problems that we’re talking about that initiated this round of protests and that are also happening during the protests are problems with policing that we’ve seen for a long, long time – suggesting that the changes that have been made haven’t gone far enough,” Earl said.

Earl said the current events have had an uneven effect on policing nationwide, with some municipalities taking steps to address demonstrators’ concerns while video captured in the past week shows officers in other cities using excessive force against protestors and journalists.

“I think we’re looking at a situation where there are some signs of progress in some places and some things that are still stuck in other places,” Earl said. “Unless the federal government were to change some fundamental legal structures that govern how local police departments do their business or what they have to do in order to get federal money, you will see these very decentralized changes because that’s the nature of policing in the United States.”

The issue of civility has been a recurring topic on Arizona 360 over the years. We asked once again how individuals can help the country heal and bridge racial divides. Our insight came from Keith Allred, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

“A productive and an accurate way to kind of look at those protests is to say, you know, these are folks who are asking us to listen, to listen to their concerns, to listen to our own hearts when we watched that video and the reaction we have to say, ‘Hey, there’s a problem here we need to address,’” Allred said.

Allred discussed how the media can give off the impression that public opinion is more divided than it really is.

“The traditional media, social media, always gives an outsize impression to the extremes. And the extremes talk louder and longer than the rest of us. They post more on social media and so they get more attention,” Allred said.

The institute has programs that promote civility. You can learn more about them here.

In a return to our occasional series Own Words, our commentary this week comes from Tucson artist Seanloui, who answered a question we posed about what it’s like to be Black in America. The California native moved to the city nearly a decade ago and has since made his mark as founder of the Black Renaissance, a collective of Black artists in Arizona who showcase their work throughout the year.