We share the pain expressed in protests over the death of George Floyd, the handcuffed Minneapolis man who died as an officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly 9 minutes.
We now must work together to get through this terrible moment.
That isn’t accomplished by attacking each other.
Saturday night, a young protester was shot to death in Omaha’s Old Market, adding to our community’s sorrow.
Not equivalent to a homicide, vandals have struck local businesses, making it harder for them to be thriving employers trying to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
Anger is appropriate. Taking out that anger on our neighbors both undercuts peaceful protesters’ message and compounds a tragedy in a time of extreme anxiety.
Condemnation of the Minneapolis police action has been fast and universal, including from Nebraska police chiefs and Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Protests expressing outrage and calling for justice and change are unequivocally protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Such citizen activism has an admirable history in our city. In the 20th century, it was key in pushing Omaha leaders and institutions to end a host of racially discriminatory practices.
That work is not done in Omaha or the United States.
This weekend, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has struck the right tone, saying Saturday, “We have to acknowledge the anger, and we do. We have to acknowledge what our uniform represents at the moment to some people. Your First Amendment right and freedom of speech is encouraged, even if it’s directed at us.”
A deputy chief walked among protesters early in Saturday’s rally without riot gear, talking with participants, the vast majority of whom are exercising their rights appropriately.
But some cannot bring themselves to remain lawful.
Of those among the protesters, Omaha civil rights leader Preston Love Jr. said, “If you are breaking the law, destroying property and now violent, you are counterproductive to our message and disrespecting Mr. Floyd and his family. As a black community leader I appeal to you to stop, work for our struggle, not against it.”
By the same token, civilians fighting with protesters undercut police work.
We beg that every individual, regardless of political views, regardless of skin color, regardless of their opinions of police conduct, measure their words and actions in an effort to move us beyond this crisis and enable sober discussion and progress.
This requires each of us to be responsible. In deciding how to act and speak, let’s ask: Will this make my life better? Will this make my neighbor’s life better? Will this make my city better?
Let’s all strive to answer yes and to be decent to one another.