On the evening of May 30, I spent several hours watching TV coverage of the burning of Chicago. It was not a calming, reassuring broadcast. News coverage stopped shortly after 10 p.m. But with the TV off and the lights out, the graphic images continued to flash before me.
I could not go to sleep. My emotions were churning, and my mind struggled to make sense of the burning and the destruction. I have seen similar grieving during past decades but never found logic in looting, arson, and destruction as relief of grief’s pain.
It was another protest gone bad. It was an act of pure violence and a venting of destructive emotions. Gangs of perpetrators who seemed ignorant of any lessons of the past, opportunely spilled out into the streets spreading a toxic mix of greed, anger and hate.
The looters executed their missions with military precision. They even drove up U-Haul trucks to the targeted stores to load what they could not carry. The scenes seemed like an organized insurrection and brought back memories of the 1968 riots in response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination that became known as the Holy Week Uprising. Fifty years later, those recollections still cast a shadow upon Dr. King’s memory.
Like the French Bastille Day, the current-day riot is a revolt against decades or even centuries of systemic, socio-economic oppression. Violence may be a catharsis of pent-up frustration and anger, but seeking justice does not justify burning and looting cities and towns. The destructive riots do a great disservice to the grieving for Mr. George Floyd, and undermine the validity of the intended protests against police brutality.
And there is the other half of the dichotomous tumult of the week. Upstaged by the pyrotechnics of the looting and burning, tearful thousands marched peacefully, genuinely grieving and protesting a man’s wrongful death. The crime is a deep wound to our nation’s soul.
As the nightly violence and destruction enveloped our cities and towns, the majority of policemen on the front lines showed considerable restraint. President Trump’s response to the events of the week was a Bible-thumping photo op, and a threat to invoke the Insurrection Act. He called for a forceful domination of the streets, and reminded us that he’s the “law and order president.”
Announcing his candidacy for President of the United States, Joe Biden called out: “Ousting Trump is not enough. America must have a rebirth of morality.” Joe is right. Ousting Trump is achievable. Letting Trump be Trump in the campaign may serve as a catalyst.
A rebirth of morality may seem an impossible dream for America. Morality cannot be legislated and rightful protests have become opportunities for riots, looting and arson. But the embryo of the rebirth of our nation’s morality is in the hearts and minds of the millions of peaceful, tearful marchers. It must be embraced and nurtured to its full gestation. The potential for America’s greatness is in its growth and maturation.
Fred Natkevi is a longtime Oak Park resident and a member of the Oak Park Writers Group.