They Are Protests, Not Riots, And Here's All The Good They've Accomplished So Far

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
protesters sit at an intersection in West Hollywood during demonstrations following the recent death...
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The streets have been full for nearly two weeks. People have shown up by the thousands in the wake of death of George Floyd. The call to action has been heard around the world. And depending on what you read, the movement is a protest or a riot.

Words matter. Names matter. The language you use to describe a movement can frame the way future generations learn it for centuries to come. A riot, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.” Whereas a protest is “a solemn declaration of opinion and usually of dissent.”

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with a riot—history is rife with stories of uprisings against oppressive and unfair governments, and a riot to protest injustice is arguably better than a riot to celebrate a sports team victory—but to call the movement currently taking the streets a riot distracts from the truth: The thousands of people on the street are largely gathering peacefully to declare their opposition to a system that has consistently proven to devalue Black lives.

Calling the movement a riot, rather than a protest, makes it easy to ignore the significant impact the protests have made. And there have been many.

Scary Mommy put together a non-exhaustive list of all the things the Black Lives Matter protests have accomplished in just two weeks.

  • The charges against Derek Chauvin in connection with the death of George Floyd were upgraded from third degree murder to second degree. The other three officers involved in the arrest were also charged and arrested.
  • The words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on the street leading to the White House and the Mayor of Washington D.C. renamed the street Black Lives Plaza. Similarly, the words Black Lives Matter were painted on one of the busiest streets in New York’s state capital.
  • The New York State Legislature voted to repeal Law 50-A, which has kept police disciplinary records hidden from the public for the last 44 years.
  • In Minneapolis, where the protests originated, the City Council voted to ban choke holds and neck restraints in all circumstances. Nine council members also committed to dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, which has a long history of racism accusations.
  • Minneapolis public schools and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board terminated contracts with the Minneapolis police department, answering the call of many activists who’ve long questioned whether police in schools do more harm than good, particularly for students of color. Portland schools made a similar decision just days later.
  • The FBI opened an investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, months after the Louisville Metro Police Department failed to hold anyone accountable.
  • Dallas adopted a duty-to-intervene rule requiring officers to intervene whenever they witness a fellow officer using excessive force.

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The changes are real. Some can be quantified and some cannot. Some will no doubt go down in history as being invaluable, while others remain steps on the path toward progress. But they are all long overdue, and these changes will likely be the reason someone lives rather than dies. And that in itself is worth protesting for.

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