I saw a picture making the rounds comparing the disparity of treatment of protestors in Minneapolis and Michigan. The message was that the most of protestors in Minneapolis were peacefully protesting the murder of Greg Floyd and were met with tear gas, while the protestors in Michigan, who brought guns into the capital and shouted down police officers to protest executive overreach, were allowed to protest unobstructed.
It’s quite an effective meme. At face value, it makes sense, and it communicates an apparent injustice of disproportionate treatment. But when I looked into the images in the meme, it became clear that whoever created it wasn’t trying to tell the truth, but seems to be trying to cause a visceral feeling. And when the truth is sacrificed for a cause, no matter how righteous the cause may be, one loses the moral authority of the cause. Let me hash this out a bit.
Li Zhou and Kainaz Amaria writing for Vox frame the Minneapolis protests in the following way:
“The protest, which included chants of ‘It could have been me,’ was met at times with tear gas and rubber bullets. It’s a response that was incredibly harsh — and one that marks a stark contrast with how law enforcement has reacted to lockdown protests, several of which have included armed white men,” they write.
In the framing of the picture, along with the news article, we’re meant to believe that the police fired tear gas at innocent people protesting.
However, that’s not what happened. Vox editorializes it’s an unnecessary escalation, which I guess can be debated, but the implication is that the police fired on simple, peaceful protesters, which is simply not true.
Now, let’s contrast that with the Michigan rally in the picture. First, the event was peaceful. Second, the men carrying guns into the capital building were legally allowed to do so.
Third, Vox and others want to paint this as a “white man’s” protest, but it wasn’t. Finally, no law was actually broken by the protestors, outside of disobeying an executive order, which isn’t a law, and was the subject of the protests.
So at face value, the contrast painted in the picture falls flat, and ultimately it is not telling the truth. The purpose seems to be to create more division and “othering” of our neighbors. And in my opinion, this contrast ends up being emotional manipulation parading as virtue, which distracts from the reason for the protest in the first place.