The anger and agony that has gripped much of the country since the death last week of George Floyd during an encounter with Minneapolis police is difficult to capture in words.
We see the anger of decade upon decade of frustration at the treatment of black and brown people. We see the agony of those who have disproportionately suffered not only violence, but the toll of the novel coronavirus and associated economic woes. We share in those emotions and in the determination that our country should be better than this.
That’s why it was so heartening to watch hundreds of protesters gather in Topeka and express themselves Saturday. Their words were impassioned and pained, and we should all listen.
We should also be proud, because protesters in Topeka were peaceful. There will be much written and debated about violence that punctuated rallies over the last week — some minor property damage can be explained as an excess of anger, but larger fires and instigation might be the work of radicals determined to undermine the whole system. They could also be the result of outside agitators determined to paint those protesting in the worst light possible.
Neither of these groups’ tactics are welcome. Both will fail.
The system we have is the system we have. Together, we can improve it and make sure that it represents all of us. But absent civil unrest of a scale that no one sane should want, the basic institutions of our civic life will remain — police officers, city hall, representative government. We have seen this system work in the past, and we believe it can work in the future.
Likewise, we believe that most people understand that the violence we have seen is not representative of the vast majority of protesters or their desires. Those who would try to purposefully distort their message will — and deserve to — fail.
We could see why in Topeka. We could see the community solidarity and hear the powerful words. We could watch peaceful protest in action.
As Topekan Ariane Davis told the crowd at the Kansas Statehouse, “You guys have shown me why I’m proud to be a Topekan today.”
Topeka has a proud legacy as a site where civil rights change began. Let’s hope that the content and tone of our weekend protests create a new legacy, one that can serve as a model for those across our nation raising their voices to fight injustice.