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West Coast

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

From Mary Coombs/Ashland, Oregon

(Photo credits: Mary Coombs)

So, what could drive a pandemic off the front pages of the paper? Racial disturbances reminiscent of the 1960s. The trigger, of course, was the appalling behavior of a Minneapolis cop leading to the death of George Floyd – and, likely, the series of other racial incidents, mostly involving the police killing African-Americans, around the country in the last several weeks.

How to respond? Here in Ashland, an almost all-white city, the response was protest rallies and marches. Entirely peaceful, if often angry. And – our local police chief came to the rally in uniform not to patrol but to join us on his knee.

The really hard question for me is how to respond to the events elsewhere – often a similar mix of protest marches and violence: burning a police station, breaking windows and looting big box stores. (Fortunately Ashland doesn’t have a Target or CVS or Walmart to loot.)

If I were just to go with my gut, I’d be concerned about the looting/burning as counter-productive for any change. But it also feels like I should look to the responses of engaged, thoughtful African-Americans. The refrain of one of the great songs from Hamilton is “who lives, who dies, who tells the story.” I want the perspective of people who are closer to the story; who can more easily understand the experiences and emotions of the young black men who appear to be most of the violent demonstrators.

On the other hand, I’m a retired law professor. So my instinct may be to recognize the emotional charge, but to come down on the side of “what is most likely to lead to public policy changes that we (should) want?” And my race and gender and age incline me to see violence as counter-productive, while recognizing that peaceful marches and protests haven’t exactly led to serious wide-spread change that makes life safe for African-Americans from racist violence by cops and others.

Anyway, again as a law professor, I end up saying that my “job” is to raise questions and inspire thoughtful discussion, not to provide (or even have) the “right” answer.

From Patsy Swartz/Seattle, Washington

I was in downtown Seattle on Saturday (5/30), participating in the 3:00 p.m. protest. It was a very peaceful, respectful protest march with people of all colors and ages, including families. It was an extremely rare sight to see anyone without a mask. My friend and I decided to leave the march that had stopped at the Municipal Court House on 5th & Cherry around 4:30 p.m. to walk down to 3rd & Union to catch the bus back to the Northgate Park & Ride. It was shortly after our departure from the group that destruction and chaos took over. We waited at the bus stop for over an hour but there were no buses or traffic whatsoever except police cars flying by. We finally realized that we were stuck downtown but eventually we did make it back home by a stroke of luck and a circuitous journey. This is the short version.

I am so appalled that this very peaceful expression of injustice ended in desecration and looting of our community. Seems to me this has nothing to do with justice!

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