Opinion: Detroit protests have been hijacked
I believe in the right to protest against injustice. Unequivocally. As a Black man born and raised in America — in Detroit — with years of lived experience in this skin, how could I feel otherwise?
But I also believe in the responsibility of protesters to get their facts straight before launching their bodies into the streets. Police brutality is certainly a valid reason to make some noise, but first make sure that an act of police brutality actually happened before making heated accusations. The unfortunate killing of a young Black man earlier this month by Detroit Police was not an act of police brutality, and the video of the actual incident presented by Chief James Craig bears that out.
I completely understand that these are extraordinarily difficult times we are living in, and all of our nerves are frayed and worn. Long-suppressed anger is boiling over and controlling the spill can be difficult. But if the protesters want to maintain the massive support that they have earned thus far (a recent New York Times study has shown that Black Lives Matter may be the largest protest movement in American history due to unprecedented nationwide and worldwide support), then they need to not only be more certain that an actual injustice has taken place, they need to make sure that their agenda has not been hijacked by outsiders whose only objective is to raise hell because that is their self-appointed full-time job. People need to refocus, retool, stop believing the rumors before the facts come in, and stop reflexively believing the rhetoric hyped by professional agitators.
For example, I find it interesting that just a few hours after the word spread that Hakim Littleton was killed, 300 well-organized, sign-toting, bullhorn-carrying, walkie-talkie wielding people were on location pumping their fists and chanting “Black Lives Matter!”
These could very well be the same professional protesters who show up at all the protests with ready-made signs, banners and painted cars. They want to throw bricks, set fires, yell, holler, scream and openly lead a well-meaning, focused mission into chaos and disorder. Their agenda is clear: divide and conquer, take control of the agenda.
Leaders of the Detroit protests need to step up and lead. And if there is no formal leadership structure, then the organizers need to figure out how to stop allowing their cause to be perverted and mischaracterized. Right now the protesters still have a wealth of support nationwide that they never, ever had before. But that support will evaporate like a drop of water on a hot skillet if they don’t actively get out in front of this thing.
Detroit has one of the best run police departments in the nation. Yes, there are a few bad apples, but for the most part the community engagement and open communication between the citizens and the cops is a good one. So why aren’t these professional agitators protesting the police irregularities, racial profiling and injustices in their own communities?
Let me be clear: I welcome outside support, just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did during the famed “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama that lasted nearly three weeks beginning on March 7, 1965. But King insisted on specific rules of engagement that kept everyone focused on the objective, and kept the march safe from potential hijackers; support the cause, believe in the mission and focus on nonviolence. No looting and no destruction.
The difference between then and now is simple; the protesters have no real leadership, which makes them easy prey for others to derail the overall goal of peaceful demonstrations with the clear purpose of sending a much-needed message.
But that message has been hijacked, and the sad thing is that the movement’s organizers don’t even know it.
Mario Morrow is a Michigan-based political and communications consultant.