May 29: National protests against police brutality escalate. President Trump spends nearly an hour in an underground bunker, as protesters gather in Lafayette Park outside the White House. States call up their National Guards. CNN Center in Atlanta is damaged during protests. Former police officer Derek Chauvin charged with murder and manslaughter. Trump offers sympathy to George Floyd’s family, and then writes in a tweet, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter places content warnings on posts made by President Trump encouraging violence against protesters.
First Amendment-protected protest feels way more complicated during a pandemic. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is on screen calling protesters “wackadoodle.” He wants people to stay at home if they can’t maintain proper six feet distancing during a protest. In a sense, he is right—people on the streets protesting Floyd’s killing are putting themselves and others at risk of infection. Curiously, those concerns weren’t raised when semi-automatic rifle-toting mobs descended on Lansing, Michigan, or Shelley Luther supporters gathered in Dallas. In April, government officials did not claim they needed to send out the national guard to protect public health.
Americans protest. Maybe it’s in our blood. Our country was built on the backs of men throwing tea into Boston Harbor. Even before it was a stand-alone country, America celebrated the protesters, the rabble-rousers. When, during his presidency, Thomas Jefferson came into possession of a lost account of Nathaniel Bacon’s armed insurrection against the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1676, he was overjoyed. For a century, Nathaniel Bacon had been labeled an odious pirate and traitor against his country. President Jefferson, by contrast, commended Nathaniel Bacon as a paragon of the American spirit and his Rebellion as “Super American.” The idea of America has been carried on the shoulders of the people who are willing to go out on the streets and demand justice, to demand the “redress of grievances,” as the Constitution says. Protest is a reminder that the social contract still exists. The American Revolution, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, labor movements, the anti-nuclear movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement are all articulations of deeply American identity.
The streets are exploding this week in part because George Floyd’s murder is horrifying, scandalous, terrible. I was speechless with shock the first time I watched it. In truth, I can’t bear to watch it all. It is a snuff film, no different than a video of a jihadist beheading. Such outrage demands action.
But the streets are also raging because George Floyd’s death is not exceptional. In March, just after lockdowns started, Louisville, Kentucky police issued a no-knock warrant to raid the home of Kenneth Walker and Breonna Taylor at 1am. With no warning, officers barged into Walker and Taylor’s house in the middle of the night. Walker, who thought that a home invasion was happening, shot an officer in the leg. Eight officers fired into their home 22 times, killing Breonna Taylor. Police claim that the home was being used as a drug drop site, but searches found no evidence of that. Protests have been ongoing as police do nothing to address what is being called a botched raid. Not one cop has been arrested or indicted for Breonna Taylor’s murder. Last night, seven people in the Louisville protests were shot. Police say it wasn’t them.
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and on and on. The system of racism—the entrenched power inequities—are bleeding out on pavements, on shop floors, even inside the supposed sanctum of homes. The racism that was supposed to have been addressed in the 1960s and ’70s—after the Civil Rights Act, after the Black Panthers and the Weathermen and SNCC, after Miranda Rights and all the rest. But after seeing that video of the police officer’s knee on the neck and back of George Floyd for eight grinding minutes, it is hard to feel anything other than insensate fury. Without a trial, without so much as an “attorney will be appointed for you,” a man’s life was squeezed out of him as coldly as if a python had dropped onto him from out of a tree. A woman was gunned down in her home. A man was chased down and lynched on camera. Our country needs a massive correction, or, it needs to be torn down so we can try again from scratch. Hell yes, people need to hit the streets.
Even Tim Walz recognizes that many in his audience do not believe him when he promises that he and the city government will address the crisis, that people need to go home. He acknowledges generations of distrust towards the police and the government among the African American community.
Governor Tim Walz: (01:19:40)
Right now I know there’s a lot of folks out there listening that their answers should be I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ll believe it when justice is carried out. I’ll believe it when equity actually means something. I’ll believe it when the policies change. I’ll believe it when my child gets the same education as your child and that color didn’t matter. I get it right now. We’re asking an awful lot to be based on faith and that has not panned out.
Indeed. Maybe this can help to explain why the looting is happening. We all may love a protest, filled with noble images of Gandhi fasting and Martin Luther King marching across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. But in some cases—the Boston Tea Party, for instance—looting seems called for. Across the internet, a quote of King’s is appearing for just this occasion: “…a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Tonight, it gets real. Starting at around 7pm CT, looters hit businesses in Minneapolis: a supermarket, a Wendy’s, an AutoZone, the local Target. Police stand on top of the 3rd Street Precinct occasionally firing flash grenades and tear gas into the protesters on Lake Street, who are not looting, just chanting. At 9:30 PM, a group of those police come down off the building and form a cordon. Firefighters arrive at the AutoZone, which is very much ablaze by now. A half-hour later, police gradually push what is left of the protesters and very many bystanders—many of whom look young—down the street. On my computer screen, it looks like they are firing flashbangs and tear gas indiscriminately. Meanwhile, another group sets the 3rd Police Precinct ablaze—police must have abandoned it sometime during the evening.
That’s the “breaking news” constantly flashing across screens. While people who feel powerless protest and burn, the powerful use the pandemic and the outcry against police brutality that these marches are calling for in order to maintain control.
More and more, this year is starting to feel like 1918 and 1928 crashed into 1968. This has become a year of multiple epidemics. Coronavirus, of course, has disproportionately affected communities of color, both urban and rural. But that’s followed by ascending police violence. Unemployment. Rampant corruption. A deeply divided presidential election coming. Leadership that seems careless at best, possibly even malevolent. A country that has forgotten how to communicate across ideological lines. A slippage in empathy. It trickles down from the top. Looting by a citizenry echoing the looting by its elected officials.
The New York Times Video, “How a Night of Chaos in Minneapolis Unfolded [May 28],” May 29, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRmqEbP0G6I
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(1/2) Trevor on George Floyd, the Minneapolis protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper:— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) May 30, 2020
“While everyone is facing the battle against coronavirus, black people in America are still facing the battle against racism… and coronavirus.” pic.twitter.com/eaVUdq6NzJ
(2/2) Trevor on George Floyd and the Minneapolis protests:— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) May 30, 2020
“If you felt unease watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. Police in America are looting black bodies.” pic.twitter.com/oO6s8sNY44
This just happened on live tv. Wow, what a douche bag. pic.twitter.com/dQKheEcCvb— Christopher Bishop (@ChrisBishopL1C4) May 30, 2020
this is america #minnesota #minneapolis #protest #blacklivesmatter #blm https://www.tiktok.com/@kareemrahma/video/6831762210218446085.
 “Founders Online: Preface to a Manuscript on Bacon’s Rebellion, 10 March 1804,” Founders Online, National Archives (University of Virginia Press), accessed May 29, 2020, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-42-02-0543.
 Tessa Duvall, Darcy Costello, and Phillip M. Bailey, “Senator Kamala Harris Demands Federal Investigation of Police Shooting of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky,” USA TODAY, May 13, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/13/breonna-taylor-not-target-louisville-police-investigation-when-shot/5181690002/; Talis Shelbourne, “Breonna Taylor: Louisville EMT Killed in Botched Police Raid, Lawyer Says,” Heavy.com, May 10, 2020, https://heavy.com/news/2020/05/breonna-taylor/.
 Mandy McLaren et al., “‘No Justice, No Peace’: 7 People Shot amid Downtown Louisville Protests for Breonna Taylor,” The Courier-Journal, May 28, 2020, https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/2020/05/28/breonna-taylor-shooting-protesters-rally-downtown-louisville/5280279002/.
 Tim Walz, Press Conference Speech, 05/29/2020. https://www.rev.com/transcript-editor/shared/uh-rVmxJr_dPHlgssi_dJmyEg1IfwZduj9OSl9cfqF_ZN4HDaTnPujkxoTBZiLZ0wLjTxNJDF0nnR0N72K1llDHrKlQ
 CBS News Minneapolis, “Minneapolis Police Precinct and Businesses Set on Fire as Protests over George Floyd’s Death Rage On,” May 29, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-police-third-precinct/.
* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020), the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (https://www.justsecurity.org/69650/timeline-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-and-u-s-response/), the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (theweek.com), as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.