Can the Portland Protests Actually Bring Change? The Answer From Their Own Graffiti
America is hurting. Angry. Burning. As we watched George Floyd die under the knee of Officer Chauvin, the outrage in the Black community finally reached the tipping point. Demonstrations spread across the country. The outrage has been deeply felt in the White community too. In this unique moment of our cultural history, both sides seem united in empathy for George Floyd and a desire to see change.
Powerful forces are trying to seize this moment to create lasting change. Saturday night was the Portland protesters’ 80th consecutive night of protest and riots. They demand justice for George Floyd and for the Black community.
But why are they attacking the police precincts, the courthouse? Why did they break down the fence around it and try to set fire to it with lawmen inside? Why are they starting to protest in the suburbs? What do they want? And is their protest their best hope for change?
The best answers I’ve seen are in pictures shot in Portland and shared on Facebook. Click here to see more. Devon Combs, who posted these and lives near Portland, has given me permission to post them in this photo essay. The mainstream media has suppressed these images. Rep. Gerald Nadler has called them a myth. But these pictures speak so powerfully of the violence and the message being delivered in Portland. I urge you to see them for yourself.
The Handwriting on Portland’s Walls
Below you’ll see the not-always-PG pictures with a little commentary, explaining the “code” of the Oregon protesters graffiti message communicated in numbers, symbols and urban slang. Read the handwriting on Portland’s walls:
“Justice for George Floyd.” Most Americans are united in their desire that justice will be done for Floyd. But divided over the vision of justice painted on Portland’s walls.
To the left, “FTP” = “F*** the police.” In the middle of the wall, an acrostic: reading across, “Cops aren’t real,” reading down, “CAB” = “Cops are bas***ds,” under that — “Hate = USA,” beside those — “The final oink,” on the first support beam — “oink your last, pigs,” next two support beams — “Kill Cops.”
I’ve seen some people describe this graffiti as simply wanting appropriate punishment for Officer Chauvin and other police responsible for unjust deaths of blacks. The death penalty delivers justice. Because some crimes are so morally outrageous. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” We are all equal in value before God because we are all made in God’s image. To murder an image-bearer does deserve “appropriate” punishment.
But when the call to “kill cops” is constantly combined with a dehumanizing, devaluing message (“ACAB” = “All Cops Are Bas***ds,” etc), it sends a different message. It denies the image-bearing value of each officer’s life. Notice all the degrading language aimed at the police.
Reading the Portland graffiti reminded me of the cultivation of hate and bloodlust in the prelude to genocide in Rwanda, where the message was drummed in that all Tutsis were cockroaches and should be killed. It became so pervasive that at a given radio broadcast cue, “Chop down the tall trees,” the Hutus grabbed their machetes and began to hack their neighbors in pieces — 800,000 in 100 days.
The Atlantic’s article, “In Rwanda, We Know All About Dehumanizing Language: Years of cultivated hatred led to death on a horrifying scale,” describes the malignant power unleashed by words like this. People on both sides of our political spectrum are guilty, especially in protests, but neither the most recent conservative protest movement (the Tea Party) nor President Trump’s tweets have used language at this level of incessant, inflamed hatred toward one group of Americans — law enforcement.
The apostle James wrote that “the tongue is a fire” that sets great forests ablaze and “sets on fire the entire course of life” (James 3:5-6)
We Need Deep and Thoughtful Dialogue
Note: “1312” (the alphabetic numeration of ACAB, A=1, B=2 etc.), “Get a Job Pig,” “BURN the system,” “HATE = USA,” “F**k COPS,” “F12” means the same thing. A lament for “George Floyd” is here as well as “Say their names,” urging protesters to mention victims killed by police by name. But there is far more rage against the police.
The banner of Black Lives Matter waves everywhere. Black Lives do matter. And America needs a deep and thoughtful dialogue that results in change. But we can support the supreme truth of this statement without supporting the organization.
An interesting twist to BLM: “No lives matter until black lives do.” The devaluing and dehumanizing extends beyond the police. Threatening everyone and anyone until protesters achieve their goals.
This was Stalin’s rationale for the 1933 famine in Russia that killed millions. State farms were shut down and the government even took food from peasants’ homes in Ukraine to support investment in his 5-year plan for arms and manufacturing. The head of the New York Times in Moscow knew it, and being sympathetic to Stalin, helped him hide the truth. Yes there is hunger, but no famine, he famously reported. “To put it brutally — you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”
The Marxist leadership of Black Lives Matter are focused on power — taking it from the “oppressing” Whites and straights and giving it to the victims, the blacks and trans people. They seem willing, at this point, to support the George Floyd protests and see protesters break a lot of property eggs to help make their omelette. Many lives of business owners, both ethnic and white, are devastated. And according to Wikipedia, “As of July 25, 2020, at least 29 people have died during the protests, with 25 due to gunshot wounds.”
In the photo above and many others you can also see the symbol of anarchy:
Wikipedia defines anarchy as “a political philosophy and movement that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. It calls for the abolition of the state which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.” Or put another way:
This was the philosophy of Seattle’s George Floyd protest-inspired Autonomous Zone, CHAZ/CHOP. Within 2 weeks police had to forcibly clear the protesters out after a rape and 4 shootings, two that resulted in death. They were not able to protect each other for fourteen days.
So many in these protests sincerely want to create a more loving community. God’s message to us is that we are great — made in his image, but fallen — enslaved to our own sinful desires. The good that we desire to do, we do not do. We can never create a community of perfect love apart from him. It’s beyond sad.
I look at these pictures and can’t help but think of Jesus — the only one with the know-how and the power to bring racial reconciliation, the Prince of Peace — saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).
“[email protected]” = Currently listening to anarchy, “ACAB,” “1312.”
Clearly there is an element among the protesters that wants to destroy. Not just the police station (above) or the courts, but…
Why do some protesters despise America? I understand the frustration over bad cops. My black friends, especially the men, describe all the ways they live with a presumption of guilt or deficit. All the ways they experience police profiling as harassment. And this part has to change.
But, in addition to hating “cops,” some of the Portland protesters hate the very foundations of America. Some hate capitalism.
On the lower gray wall: “We all suffer under capitalists” (with an encircled pentagram underneath, aka the Wiccan star, symbol of the Wiccan religion).
The Difference Between MLK and the Portland Protesters
This Portland image is one of the most disturbing to me. It highlights the vast difference between the protests of Martin Luther King and the Portland Protesters. MLK protested against unjust American laws (laws that are not the same for everyone) by locking arms in broad daylight, with dignity and respect and without violence. He saw himself in partnership with God to do it.
In Letters from a Birmingham Jail he wrote,
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
MLK realized that breaking just laws that are the same for everyone leads to anarchy. Clearly, he opposed anarchy. Breaking unjust laws and suffering their penalty creates empathy and brings change.
In Portland, peaceful protests occur during the day, with respect for the law. Lawless protests occur at night with setting fires, looting, using fireworks and lasers, rocks and frozen water bottles as weapons, and salutes to anarchy. Defying just laws that are meant to protect everyone. (Sadly, all the Portland protesters demonize the police.)
King worked to change the system’s unjust laws. Even if it meant paying the unjust laws’ penalties. He never called for burning the system down or abolishing capitalism or America. Even when his home was firebombed, King urged the black community not to riot.
More importantly, MLK also stated that, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God.”
But God is on the side of treating your enemies with respect, as King did. Not dehumanizing them. Not calling for their extermination. Not burning down the police precincts or unions or federal courthouses. Some of the Portland protesters signed their demands with a Wiccan star — a pagan symbol in rejection of God.
The Business of Reconciliation
God’s main business is reconciliation. He shows that in order to bring enemies together, sacrifice is needed. “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son” (Romans 5:10). What is needed for racial reconciliation is sacrifice as a path to empathy, reconciliation and change.
As Prof. George Yancey points out, “If you rely merely on accusation, blaming and canceling to compel whites to support you, we will get what we have gotten thus far.” In other words, endless cycles of a national racial incident, protest, demands, backlash or disregard and, after about two months, a return to a racially unjust normal.
In other words, the message written on the walls of the Portland protests will not bring change. In large part because the change they want is not to change unjust laws. They want to change the way they are treated, especially by police. And they want power to force the change.
Thinking of George Floyd’s death, the goal is not simply, “Police shouldn’t suffocate someone under their knee.” How we treat each other comes from the heart. How do you teach procedures for treating people with empathy and respect instead of Chauvin’s stone-cold harshness and arrogance?
What is needed in large part is a heart change. In order to bring heart change, Blacks and Whites must listen to one another, treating one another with dignity and respect, seeking to understand each other, willing to sacrifice some of what they want to meet the others’ needs. Then we will have the mutual buy-in and support that will bring both sides together to make real change to end racism.
And that is what both sides long for. What MLK stood for. What God wants and will provide the power for — as we proactively seek change with real empathy that builds trust for the others’ side.
(For more on this solution I recommend reading George Yancey’s article and his book recommended there.)
Lael Arrington is a national speaker and author of four books — most recently, Faith and Culture: The Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith.
Originally published at blogs.bible.org. Reprinted with permission.