Professors at two of New York’s most prestigious universities have advocated for and praised the violence that has come to be associated with the aftermath of daily protests in New York.
An assistant professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism spoke in glowing terms about the protests in New York.
He writes, “Despite what you see on CNN, it’s been incredibly heartening + moving to be in NYC this past week. We seem to be past the worst of the epidemic; the weather is great; and people are out of their houses again, not bc they’re getting brunch, but because they need to say true things.”
Gessen, however, was super gung-ho on social distancing and quarantine measures only recently, when he said that New Yorkers who leave shouldn't be allowed back in.
Arlene Davila, a professor at NYU and founding director of the Latinx Project, believes that looting, theft, and destruction are all part of this essential tapestry of protest.
She writes, “Anyone surprised that protests include looting of luxury stores in Soho & elsewhere doesn't know the 1st thing about racial capitalism & luxury consumption. Racial exploitation is at the root of consumer capitalism built on the commodification of black bodies through slavery.”
“Throughout the world, consumer capitalism, shopping, & inequality are intertwined at the production & consumption ends—from exploitative sweatshop jobs to precarious minimum wage retail jobs without benefits. Advertising is one of the whitest industries in corporate America.”
“Finally across the globe protests against neoliberal capitalism have involved looting of major symbols of consumption, most recently in Chile where it was symbols of global capitalism such as Starbuck stores and banks that were most looted,” she writes.
Davila finishes her thread, saying “Oh, and Soho shopping district is NOT New York. NYC is more than the privatized urban landscape it has become, which is another place where [we] see the links between racial capitalism and consumption in the form of gentrification and displacement.”
While there is not specific context given, this video definitely looks like it was shot in SoHo.
Davila is wrong about SoHo, it is undoubtedly New York. The artists who moved into SoHo’s lofts in the 1980s and made that neighbourhood over from an industrial area to a vibrant artistic neighbourhood were most definitely New Yorkers.
The independent boutiques and art galleries that thrived there, alongside small restaurants helmed by inventive and innovative chefs, were and are part of the essential landscape of New York.
SoHo is more than a shopping district, it is home to families, theatres, shop owners and galleries, as well as holding hotels and luxury shopping that help make New York the travel destination that it is.
While the city suffers the criminality of rioters, the inaction of a spineless mayor, and a void of leadership in any real capacity, those who are tasked with educating our bright young minds think it’s right and good to egg on destruction and not creation.
Just as New York wasn’t the origin of the coronavirus in the US but it soon became the epicentre of the nation’s outbreak, so too has the city become a focal point for the protests that began in Minneapolis, sparked by the brutal police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
In every state and in dozens of cities, protestors are speaking the truth that George Floyd’s death was a horrifying, racist act to a power that also believes this killing was a terrible injustice that can never be repeated.
Much of the protest activity in New York has been peaceful, as it so often is in this city where protests and large public gatherings are a way of life.
Largely unburdened by work or school, families have been stepping out together, with signs, loud voices, raised fists, and even a protective face mask or two, to go to the only social gathering in town: the protests.
But the protests, which have gone on each day and stretch into the night, do not end as peacefully as they begin. After the peaceful demonstrators have taken their strollers and hand sanitizer and gone home, those who stay out to play are more interested in breaking the city open by force than raising their voices against racial injustice.
This is the message of New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari, who talked about standing in his lobby while would-be looters eventually decided not to break in. Ahmari witnessed roving gangs in midtown Manhattan, and saw them break into a glasses shop and a Verizon phone store.
This is not what protests in New York typically look like. And Gessen, who participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests, to the point where he was arrested and spent some time in the Tombs—holding cells in Manhattan—should know that. Occupy, while it took over Zuccotti Park in the financial district, did not cause this kind of mayhem.
I have participated in protests in New York as far back as 2003, and not once have I seen people break into shops and steal things in the name of justice. This is not something that has been considered part of peaceful protest.
Until now, apparently.
One look at social media is enough to see that while many protestors are in fact stepping out to speak their truth in lieu of that still-elusive brunch, others are using these protests as a cover for the destruction of property in New York City.
Apparently there's only one good reason to break these coronavirus restrictions, and it's to protest, all together, with coronavirus droplets potentially spewing everywhere.
New York is not just one thing. It is all the things, it is something different to everyone. And the independent shop owners, high-end retail employees, and restaurateurs whose placed of work were trashed in downtown New York don’t deserve that treatment anymore than the pawn shops and kids shoe stores up in the Bronx.
Protest is a valuable part of the American democratic system. We are free to protest anything, from demanding an end to nauseating, racist police violence to asking that we be allowed to pray together at our houses of worship. Of course we can, no one really disputes that.
From the protestors in Michigan and North Carolina who demanded that their states’ economies reopen to the protestors who shut down the Manhattan Bridge in New York last night after de Blasio’s curfew order and then railed when police wouldn’t let their march continue, protest is an active and essential part of American discourse.
It is a failure of these professors, and probably more like them, to think that their own city is not worth defending. But hey, if coronavirus cases spike, and things go even more sideways, New York City Councilman Mark Levine has words for us all:
“Let's be clear about something: if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks, don't blame the protesters.