Thousands of Americans across the US are peacefully marching against police violence

Across the country, Americans are taking to the streets again to protest the deaths of black people perpetrated by US law enforcement.

These citizens are using their constitutional rights — “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” — to express their frustration and discontent at the longstanding racial injustices of the US criminal justice system. It is one of the few remedies available to them because, too often, police officers who take the lives of black people don’t face any professional or criminal consequences for their actions.

Many Americans turned out, with the risk to their health coming not only from aggressive law enforcement but also the unprecedented public health threat of Covid-19, to register their anger at their country’s institutional racism. Most of them are doing so peacefully.

A man wearing a respirator mask holds a sign reading, “We never left Jim Crow.”
In Minneapolis, a protester holds up a sign addressing America’s ongoing history of inequalities and police brutality.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

However, that is often not the story being told on television news networks or social media. Instead, instances of destructive or violent protest — usually against private property, not people, though there was one report of a man being shot and killed near a protest in Detroit — have become the dominant storyline.

Pictures and videos of fires and physical violence might be of most interest to news producers or politicians who wish to deflect attention away from the underlying problem of police brutality. Scenes of police exerting force against protesters are also dramatic. But in different ways, by focusing on specific conflicts rather than the problems that led to them, these images rob the protests of their context. They are not the whole story.

Those violent demonstrators could redirect attention away from the structural inequities that motivated the protests in the first place — even though these incidents are not yet fully understood. State and local officials in Minnesota said on Saturday morning that many of the people arrested during the protests did not actually live in the area. We are still learning the exact nature of the story unfolding right in front of our eyes.

That’s why it is useful to stay focused on what we do know: police violence is a longstanding and disturbingly intractable problem in American society, and the many people who peacefully demonstrated their distress at that reality deserve to have their grievances heard and understood. They should not have to answer for the actions of the few just because violence attracts the media’s attention, and because political leaders find that violence useful fodder to move the conversation away from the pervasive injustices undergirding the American state.

Because while the protests will end, police violence against black Americans will not. The white now-former police officer who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis has been arrested for murder. The white vigilantes who killed Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia have been charged as well. But no one has yet been held accountable for the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville; the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Tamir Rice were never charged with a crime. History tells us that when a law enforcement officer takes the life of a civilian, they rarely face criminal or professional repercussions.

That is the fundamental injustice that Americans across the nation are coming out to protest — and most of them are doing it peacefully. Take a look.

Arms of various skin tones are raised in the air; in the background of the photo stands the White House, slightly obscured by trees.
People gather in front of the White House as they protest the death of George Floyd.
Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
A group of black women in blue face masks stand together in the center of the photo. Around them are clusters of protesters, one of whom is holding a large sign reading, “#DC will hear us.”
Americans carrying signs and wearing masks gather in the streets of the nation’s capital.
Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
In the foreground, women dressed all in black hold signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “From Ferguson to DC END police brutality.”
Demonstrators, socially distant and in masks, rally in a public park hours after the arrest of former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A dense cluster of protesters, all in masks. in the center is a person in a black t-shirt featuring Michael Jordan. Their sign reads, “Black Lives Matter Say Their Names.”
Protesters assemble in the streets of DC with signs honoring black Americans killed by police violence.
Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The rust colored, saucer-shaped stadium dominates the scene. Around it is a mass of protesters. In the center of the crowd is a large banner that reads in all capital letters, “George Floyd.”
Hundreds of New Yorkers gather outside of the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn.
Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images
People, largely in black, stand in socially distant clusters. A man in shorts holds a sign that says “Fuck the racists: end white supremacy.”
Protesters congregate outside the New York County Supreme Court in lower Manhattan.
John Lamparski/NurPhoto/Getty Images
A woman with her fist in the air shows off her mask.
In Manhattan, a protester wears a face mask with George Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe,” as she demonstrates amid the pandemic.
John Lamparski/NurPhoto/Getty Images
A large, masked crowd fills a street. Three people hold signs, each with a name: “George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Eric Garner.”
Signs bearing the names of victims of police violence are held by New Yorkers preparing to walk from lower Manhattan into Brooklyn.
John Lamparski/NurPhoto/Getty Images
One sign reads: “Justice: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.” The other, “Liberty and Justice for all?”
On the Brooklyn Bridge, demonstrators on foot hold up signs demanding justice.
John Lamparski/NurPhoto/Getty Images
A socially distance group of people march towards the photographer. At their forefront is a woman in black, with a black mask, and a black sign that reads: “My Dad said, ‘Fuck the police!!’”
In Minneapolis, people march by U.S. Bank Stadium in response to the police killing of George Floyd.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
A diverse group of protesters, all in masks, hold up both hands; and older gentleman with white hair raises his hands as he takes a knee.
Protesters kneel and hold up their hands during a rally in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed.
Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images
A young black man flanked by a woman with grey hair raises his fist. His sign simply reads, “George Floyd.”
People demonstrate outside the Hennepin County Government Center.
Joshua Lott/Washington Post/Getty Images
A cacophony of color signs, many of which are difficult to make out due to the density of the crowd. One says, ‘Mass Action against Police Brutality.” Others, “Black Lives Matter.”
In Massachusetts, a crowd of protesters hold up signs about Black Lives Matter.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images
A woman in a taupe mask holds two small signs flecked with colorful paint. “Black Lives Matter,” one reads; the other, “No justice, no peace prosecute the police!”
A protester in Boston, Massachusetts.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images
People in black holding signs reading “Blue Lives Murder” and “Prosecute cops who committed murder” standing under yellow faux police tape printed with the words “DON’T SHOOT.”
Near Boston Common, protesters carry homemade signs about police brutality.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images
Two masked black men raise their fists against a stormy sky.
Two demonstrators stand on pillars, each holding up one arm in salute outside the Georgia State Capitol.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
A dense tangle of people form a sinuous line down a tree-lined street. Their many sings are difficult to read—they form a human river.
Hundreds march following the death of George Floyd outside the CNN Center next to Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.
Ben Hendren/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
“Taylor, Arbery, and Floyd matter! if they had been dogs, America would be outraged!!!” a sign reads.
A large crowd marches, holding signs.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
A woman drives a car with a sign on the door reading “No to racist terrorists” as others march beside it.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
A aerial view of a street, clogged with people wedged between trees and a construction site.
In the streets of Houston, people gather and march.
Mark Felix /AFP/Getty Images
A dense mass, so close that pavement cannot be seen; the shot is taken from above, the red light of a traffic signal near the top of the frame.
Seen from afar, hundreds march in solidarity in Texas.
Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images
Next to that woman, someone with their arm outside of the passenger’s side window holds a green sign reading, “We shall overcome!”
A woman stands up through a car’s sunroof to hold up a sign reading “I can’t breathe.”
Mark Felix /AFP/Getty Images
“White silence is violence” and “Black lives matter” read two prominent signs.
Activists stand and sit on a grassy knoll holding signs about Black Lives Matter.
Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images
Activists in Bloomington, Indiana, re-create former police officer Derek Chauvin pinning George Floyd down by the neck with his knee. Behind them, other protesters kneel too, echoing Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest.
SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Protesters take a knee outside government buildings in Indiana.
SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Protesters sit in the streets outside the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, fists in the air.
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
Protesters rally with megaphones and signs in the streets in Missouri.
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
A man, surrounded by other protesters, holds up a sign depicting a young black man with targets on his head and body. “Hands up,” it reads, backwards, “don’t shoot.”
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
Activists, gathered outside Denver City Hall, hold up their fists in salute.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
These activists, too, have their fists raised.
A large crowd stands outside the Colorado state capitol.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
At the second day of protests in Denver, people hold their fists in the air.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
Some sit on the hall’s steps, others mill in the street. An American flag hangs above them all.
Protesters gather outside City Hall after a peaceful march across the city in Louisville, Kentucky.
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Demonstrators hold fists aloft in Louisville, where EMT Breonna Taylor was shot by police who entered her home with a no-knock warrant.
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Protesters march in solidarity toward Louisville City Hall in Kentucky.
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
“if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” another sign reads.
In Detroit, people march holding signs with the slogan “No justice, no peace.”
Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images
“I can’t breathe! Stop police brutality” a woman’s sign reads, her mouth open in a shout.
A woman holds a sign referring to George Floyd’s death as protesters take to the streets in Michigan.
Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters hold their hands up and chant “hands up, don’t shoot” while Detroit police officers look on.
Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images
Outside Ballys Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, people gather demanding justice for the death of George Floyd.
Getty Images
“Justice 4 George” reads the sign that dominates the photo, carried by a man in a blue shirt.
Vegas protesters carry signs as they march along the Strip.
Bridget Bennett/AFP/Getty Images
“Who do you call when the murder wears a badge?” a black and white sign reads. Around the woman carrying it, are socially distant knots of protesters.
Dozens gather in the street in Las Vegas.
Denise Truscello/Getty Images
A young woman in a mask stands in the foreground, her eyes solemn. Behind her, blurred, are dozens of others.
Protesters march in the streets of San Jose, California.
Dai Sugano/The Mercury News/Getty Images
A man bearing a red and yellow sign reading, “601 killed by the LAPD,” sits in the middle of the street. Around him, people raise their fists.
In Los Angeles, people sit in the streets, blocking traffic and carrying signs.
Apu Gomes/Getty Images
The black banner, with white writing, reads, “Oakland ‘09 Ferguson ‘14 Baltimore ‘15 Minneapolis ‘20.”
A banner showing cities and dates of past protests is carried through downtown Oakland.
Neal Waters/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A man with brown and black dreadlocks, his black face mask on his chin, kneels. A crowd around him appears to cheer him on.
A man kneels as protesters around him hold up signs in California.
Neal Waters/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Two people in masks hold up a sign reading “Abolish the police.”
Neal Waters/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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