African-American leaders denounce looting and vandalism after unrest following George Floyd death

After stores were looted and police cruisers went up in flames from New York to Los Angeles, African-American national leaders on Monday have begun speaking out against the violent outbursts that have accompanied the initially peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd.

Arguing that the looting and vandalism is distracting attention away from the issues of police brutality and racial injustice – as well as being criminal acts – African-American activists, faith leaders and elected officials are deriding the rioting that has occurred across the country and calling for peaceful demonstrations.

“It was disheartening to see the results of what happened to what started out as peaceful protests,” Thomas W. Dortch Jr., the chairman of the Atlanta-based 100 Black Men civil rights group, told Fox News. “And if we don’t get in front of this now, nobody can stop what could be a horrific summer that lays ahead.”

Dortch laid part of the blame for the rioting on white supremacists and extremist groups, who he said were using the protests as a place to instigate violence and vandalism in order to either sully the cause or to just sow chaos. He did, however, note that many young African-Americans also participated in the looting and vandalism.

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“Our young people get caught up in the moment,” he said. “They come out to voice opinion on a problem that our community has been dealing with for years and then they just get caught up in things.”

U.S. officials are currently working to determine whether extremist groups had infiltrated the protests across the country and deliberately tipped largely peaceful demonstrations toward violence. As demonstrations spread from Minneapolis to the White House, New York City and overseas Sunday, federal law enforcement officials – and President Trump -- insisted far-left groups were stoking violence. Meanwhile, experts who track extremist groups also reported seeing evidence of the far-right at work, though administration officials have disputed that.

Thousands of people have gathered in cities across the country over the last few days to protest the police brutality and racial injustice following the death of Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody May 25 after Officer Derek Chauvin pinned down Floyd and kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes in a moment caught on cellphone video.

Chauvin, who was fired from the force along with three other officers involved in the incident, was charged late last week with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He also was accused of ignoring another officer who expressed concerns about Floyd.

Despite the charges against Chauvin, protests continued over the weekend, devolving in some cities into incidents of looting and vandalism.

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As of Monday morning, at least 4,400 people have been taken into custody nationwide in relation to the chaos, according to an Associated Press tally. Meanwhile, countless more business owners whose livelihoods already have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are finding their stores damaged and ransacked.

In a tweet over the weekend, Derrick Johnson, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said he understood the frustration many African-Americans feel, but that “we cannot afford to lose more Black sons and daughters.”

“Our people are rightfully angry and hurting, but we cannot afford to lose more Black sons and daughters,” Johnson said. “We must keep our focus on destroying the systemic racism against our communities that led to this uprising Peaceful protest, aggressive voting!”

While many African-American elected officials across the country stayed quiet over the weekend regarding the looting and vandalism – instead choosing to voice support for the protestors – as cities began to take stock of the damage on Monday, many began to speak up.

Rep. Jim Clybun, D-S.C., took to social media to call for peaceful protests, while his colleague in the upper chamber of Congress, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., slammed protestors who came to his state’s capital from abroad and called for an end to the violence.

“For those who believe that violence is a way to react, this is selfishness, and we do not tolerate this, Scott tweeted. “Protest, be heard, be seen, and be peaceful. Stand for justice for #GeorgeFloyd, but please do it in order. How we conduct ourselves creates a path for the future.”

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Elected officials in Washington may have been slow to respond to the rioting, but lawmakers in those cities affected by the unrest were not.

After hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets near Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on Friday night, smashing windows and clashing with police officers, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms quickly condemned the demonstrators.

“You are disgracing our city, you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country,” she said late Friday evening. “We are better than this. We are better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home. Go home.”

In an attempt to quell the unrest, Bottoms even called upon rapper and activist Killer Mike to make a plea for peaceful protests. The rapper, whose father served on the Atlanta police force, made an impassioned speech that quickly went viral after he asked rioters “not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy.”

“I am duty-bound to be here to simply say: That it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy,” Killer Mike said. “It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.

He added: “It is the responsibility of us to make this better right now. We don’t want to see one officer charged, we want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see targets burning, we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground.”