Lewis and King knew it’s about changing hearts and minds.
This ought to be said first: What has happened in Kenosha is gut-churning awful. Wisconsin has been embarrassed before an international audience.
Second: The shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police has the appearance of a violent and possibly criminal overreaction to a tense situation, but until all the evidence is in people should not rush to judgment.
Third: Police and authorities do nothing to ease tensions by shutting off all communications and transparency in the wake of an incident of this nature. That creates an appearance of circling the wagons to protect their own.
Fourth: The deadly shooting in which a 17-year-old with militia links has been charged is a frightening escalation toward vigilantism.
Fifth: The right to peaceably assemble to protest government actions is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and deserves full respect.
Sixth: What has been happening late at night on the streets of Kenosha has nothing to do with peaceable protest. It is violent hooliganism, lashing out to harm the innocent by burning down businesses, vandalizing and stealing. One cannot help but conclude many of these criminals couldn’t care less about Jacob Blake. They are taking advantage of an opportunity, that’s all.
Not long ago America honored the late John Lewis. He was a longtime congressman, but that was the least among a multitude of reasons he was revered. For a lifetime he was a leader in making America a more just and equal place for people.
He was there during key moments of the civil rights movement, and his name is spoken in the same breath as Martin Luther King Jr. He bled for fairness and freedom, and he’ll be remembered for generations.
If he could speak out now, he would say what he always said. Protest, get in “good trouble,” but do not be tempted to violence.
More than half a century ago King, Lewis and others did not change the hearts and minds of so many Americans by lashing out in rage. They did so by demonstrating character, dignity and courage in the face of hate. They made others unable to turn away from what was really happening in America, and enough Americans felt sufficient shame to drive change for the better.
Today, injustice and violence against people of color created similar sympathies, in which polls showed a strong majority of Americans stood in solidarity and supported the peaceful protests, while calling for improvements in policing, the criminal justice system and more. The opportunity for real progress was there, for all to see.
But what people like Lewis and King counseled against—violent reaction—occurred in cities across the country. Clashes with police. Burning blocks. Hundreds of millions in damages. Businesses looted and destroyed just because they could be. Innocent people harmed. Fear stoked.
A hater could not have scripted it more effectively. The violence and destruction provide an excuse to discredit legitimate claims of victims and people of goodwill who seek meaningful discussion and positive change.
That is not the “good trouble” of which John Lewis spoke. It’s criminal and must be condemned with appropriate consequences. Worst of all, it has changed the national narrative and squandered a chance to make America better.