Peace Prevails After Another Night Of Protests For George Floyd

Jun 3, 2020
Originally published on June 4, 2020 10:32 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Curfews, police and troops may have had some effect overnight, so too have the attitudes of protesters who continue to demonstrate against police violence. Another day of protest across this country came off less violently than on some earlier days. That includes Los Angeles, where NPR's Nate Rott was on the ground. Nate, good morning.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And also here in the District of Columbia, where Tim Mak is standing by. Tim, good morning to you.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Last time you and I were talking, it was about a rather violent incident in which police used tear gas or some kind of gas to push back protesters to make room for a presidential photo-op. What was the scene like at that same spot outside the White House on Tuesday evening, last evening?

MAK: Right. There were the large, large crowds Tuesday evening, and like you said, on the site of a pretty serious confrontation Monday, where protesters had been driven from St. John's Church moments before the president was photographed. Tuesday evening, there was a joyful feeling in the air. People were passing out water and snacks. Medics were circulating. The demonstrations were peaceful. And any suggestion of violence for very many hours was shouted down by protesters who repeated the slogan peaceful protests repeatedly. And there were really only a couple of minor aberrations from this, such as when several plastic water bottles were thrown or when a few protesters - a very, very small number of protesters - shook the newly erected fence in front of the White House.

INSKEEP: Although people did ignore the 7 p.m. curfew in Washington, D.C.

MAK: That's right. And, if anything, crowds were getting larger in front of the White House. More people were arriving rather than leaving at 7 p.m. in particular. It did dissipate throughout the evening. Law enforcement was professional, did not engage with protesters, basically held the line silently for hours. I want to play you some tape from two people who felt a strong sense of almost duty to come out. You're going to hear first from Javon Wooden (ph), who's a black man and a U.S. Army veteran, and Todd Gibson (ph), a 21-year-old from Buffalo, N.Y.

JAVON WOODEN: It's sad to say that this situation actually reminds me of going overseas. You know, I've been to Afghanistan prior to. And this is - it's a shame that we have to combat these type of atrocities over here in the United States.

TODD GIBSON: I don't understand what it's like to be discriminated every day, especially by law enforcement. So as a white person, I feel like it's my responsibility to use my privilege to help people.

INSKEEP: Two protesters who spoke with NPR's Tim Mak in Washington. And Nate Rott is still on the line in Los Angeles. What was it like there yesterday?

ROTT: You know, from what I saw, it was very much like you just heard in D.C. - thousands of people out in overwhelmingly peaceful protests, officers showing restraint. There were arrests. They were mostly late at night, hours after the city's curfew went into effect. But overall, it was a much calmer scene than we'd seen over the last few days.

INSKEEP: What did you hear from protesters?

ROTT: Yeah. So a colleague, Arzu Rezvani (ph), and I spent most of the day at a massive protest in downtown Los Angeles that started and ended at the steps of City Hall.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black lives matter.

(CLAPPING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black lives matter.

ROTT: The marchers stretched for city blocks, chanting, clapping and cheering as onlookers waved from apartments overhead and LAPD helicopters circled in the skies. Behind the main group, we ran into a man who was marching with two of his young sons. He carried two signs. One read, I can't breathe, the other - I can't breathe again.

GARY LEE: I don't want them to have to worry about that.

ROTT: His name is Gary Lee (ph). He's black. His sons are 9 and 12, around the same age Lee was in 1992, when Los Angeles rioted after three white police officers were acquitted of the savage beating of Rodney King. That, he says, was a learning experience. It was scary for a kid.

LEE: My fear is no longer my safety, it's theirs. You know what I mean? Getting that call.

ROTT: Here we are, he says, in 2020, nearly 30 years later, with another chance to learn. That's why he brought his boys here. Jaren Lee (ph) is the younger of the two. His hair is in short braids.

JAREN LEE: We're trying to have a peaceful protest.

ROTT: Like all parents, Lee says the death of George Floyd and the unbearable video of the actions preceding it has led to difficult conversations. For example, this from his 8-year-old son who's not here at the march.

LEE: And he asked, why didn't the cop get off of him? How do you answer that? You know, how do you legit answer that, you know? And so to this day, I don't know how I would answer that question.

ROTT: You don't have an answer for it?

LEE: Not that I can articulate to a 8-year-old, you know what I mean? Like, they still see the world as perfect. You know, their classmates look different, but they play together at recess. So for him to, like, come to a whole different kind of understanding of the world at 8, I'm really honestly not prepared to do that to him.

ROTT: People aren't born racist, Lee says, it's learnt. And that's been one of the most difficult parts of talking through what happened with his older sons.

LEE: And the hardest part I'll be - if I can just be 100% honest - the hardest part has been how to teach not to hate. I mean, just because a particular race or somebody from that race, that doesn't mean we're going to hate the whole race because then if they grow up with that kind of ideology, that's on me.

ROTT: Lee is a teacher. He teaches restorative justice at a high school, where he helps with conflict resolution between teachers and students. But that doesn't mean he has all of the answers. Rounding a corner in downtown LA, a line of National Guardsmen in camouflage and full combat gear stand across the street, holding rifles across their chests. His 9-year-old son points, and older brother Marcus Pharaoh (ph) asks the question so many people are asking.

LEE: He doesn't understand that concept. When he looks to the left, he's like, wait, wait, what city - and once again, I don't know how to quite explain why their guns are so big to him. You know, he just has those kind of questions.

LEE: Farrow, who's wearing a camo backpack on his front, keeps walking.

MARCUS PHARAOH: Just a lot of thoughts going through right now.

ROTT: Yeah?

MARCUS: Yeah. It's crazy.

ROTT: Lee says he knows his son will experience racism. He can't help that. He's realistic. But he wants his kids to experience the world for themselves, not enter it with taught ideas of who's good and who's bad. He points to the group of black, brown and white protesters ahead as proof that things have gotten better since 1992. I ask his older son Pharaoh, who's been taking it all in, what he makes of this whole thing.

MARCUS: I make out that peace and hate beats violence.

ROTT: A lesson that's OK by dad. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.