In many cities where the George Floyd protests are taking place, the police have responded to protestors using rubber bullets, riot gear, and tears gas, which seemed to demonstrate the very need for these protests in the first place.
But not every interaction between police and protestors turned violent — there were plenty of places where unity and compassion were on display, and where rioters could not take advantage of the chaos. These are some of the places — at least, relatively and so far — where violence on the streets was the exception, not the rule.
For instance, when several hundred protestors in Michigan marched to the Flint Township police station, they found law enforcement decked out in riot gear. The county’s sheriff, Chris Swanson, then addressed the crowd. “We want to be with you all, for real,” he said. “I took my helmet off; they laid their batons down. I want to make this a parade, not a protest. I’m just telling you, these cops love you…you tell us what you need to do.”
The crowd then began chanting, “Walk with us,” so that’s what the officers did.
The next morning, the department released a statement. “The protest remained peaceful for the entire duration,” it read. “The Flint Township Police Department respects the community’s freedom of speech and their desire to demonstrate peacefully. No arrests were made during this event.”
In Camden, New Jersey, police officials also walked alongside protestors—and held a barbecue for local residents. Baltimore could have easily been the site of some of the most violent George Floyd protests — just five years ago, it was home to two weeks of protests and riots following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, in the back of a police van. Despite that history, though, the city’s four days of protests have been largely — though not entirely — peaceful.
Police did arrest some people during the protests, yet proportionately far less than many other cities — the population of Philadelphia, for example, is just 2.5 times that of Baltimore, yet police there made 14 times as many arrests during protests on May 30. In fact, the police and protestors often seemed aligned in their mission to keep the peace — when a man shot fireworks at police, other protestors chased him down and turned him over to the officers.
The actions of these police units by no means makes up for the police brutality being seen in other cities. It does not heal the wounds. But it does show what can happen when police officers respond to the pain and anger of protestors with compassion rather than brute force.