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EDITORIAL: Work together to make change

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Peaceful protests. Demonstrations. Marches. Clashes. Uprisings. Riots. 

So many words for the many shades of what is happening around our country right now. 

The death of George Floyd, coming so soon after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, has set a match to the tinder that has piled up for years.

George Floyd died in police custody May 25, after a video caught a white police officer kneeling on Floyd's throat with his hands in his pockets for several minutes while Floyd said he couldn't breathe and cried for his mother. Four Minneapolis police officers were fired, and one, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder.

Taylor, an EMT in Louisville, Kentucky, was shot and killed by police who knocked down her front door after midnight in March while serving a drug warrant. No drugs were found in her apartment.

A person wears a mask reading "I Can't Breath" during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Chicago, Saturday, May 30, 2020. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood in February. The shooting was captured on video. It took more than two months for authorities to charge Gregory and Travis McMichael, a white father and son, with murder.

Three black deaths, but so much more than that. Decades, centuries of white privilege and black oppression, eased somewhat by the civil rights movement and changes in laws, but always simmering, always a thought.

Many African Americans are afraid of police, and rightly so.

"Even in York County, people in the African American community are extremely afraid to interact with police, and how a simple phone call could lead to brutality, arrest and death," said York NAACP President Sandra Thompson.

The York NAACP and local law enforcement held an online roundtable on Wednesday, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich and York County District Attorney Dave Sunday urged everyone to make a video every time they have an encounter with a police officer.

"I have been encouraging folks to do anything they can to record any kind of interaction they have," Helfrich said. "It’s difficult to just take people's word. It doesn’t get us what we need to remove cops.”

And while that will help, more needs to happen. Police need to be trained to diffuse situations rather than using force and to not gauge the level of threat by the color of a person's skin.

All of us need to acknowledge the institutional racism that has brought our country to this moment, when peaceful protests can become uprisings in a flash.

Needless deaths and suffering must stop. Traffic stops that become deadly must end. Using deadly force on a potential suspect in a nonviolent crime should never, ever happen. 

And when those unthinkable acts occur, people must act. People must protest. People must call out the powers that be and demand action.

But there is a point when a protest becomes a riot, when peaceful demonstrators become a violent mob, when a clash becomes a flash.

Violence isn't the answer. Destruction of property hurts only the property owners, who are often minorities. More violence by police and people claiming the right to defend themselves will only cause the situation to erupt even more.

People must stand together. White people must come to terms with their own racism and privilege, and they must make the changes that will bring an end to the institutional oppression.

In the best photos from the past few days, protesters and police are talking together, pledging to work together. Those are the leaders we all need to follow to prevent the protest from becoming a riot.