ETSU professor: Street protests create opportunity for leaders to ‘harness energy for a positive outcome’

ETSU Professor Daryl Carter

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – People protesting systemic injustices in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody “are righteous in what they’re fighting for,” and give area leaders the opportunity to “bring them into the fold and make them part of the solution.”

That was the assessment offered by Daryl Carter, a professor of history at East Tennessee State University, during a wide-ranging interview about the protests and demonstrations in Johnson City during the last six days. A long-format video of the interview is below:

Carter said the protests stem from people being “tired of lack of opportunity, economic inequality, police brutality – they want to live dignified lives, and so this issue that began in the past week or so in Minneapolis is resonating with Americans all across the country including here.”

So long as local protests remain non-violent, Carter said, it also makes sense on several levels for those in power, politically and in policing, to give protesters “a little bit of latitude” — even when they block streets in violation of the law.

“When we think about the Civil Rights movement, why it was so successful is because Dr. King and others were able to instill non-violent rhetoric and tactics and strategy into the movement, and so that took discipline,” Carter said. “And we saw Civil Rights protesters beaten without responding. That takes incredible moral courage to do that.”

Johnson City police arrested 11 people who were blocking streets Monday night, but did not follow suit Tuesday night. Tuesday also saw Mayor Jenny Brock speaking personally with protesters near City Hall, and officers kneeling in the street after protesters — who were violating the law — chanted, “kneel with us.”

A cell phone video screen capture shows a Johnson City police officer who kneeled in solidarity with protesters late Tuesday.

Carter spoke positively of the efforts Brock has made to engage in constructive dialogue with protesters. He also lauded the police actions Tuesday night.

“The idea of them taking a knee with them is terrific. We make false distinctions that you’re either on the side of law and order or you’re on the side of the protesters. To my mind as a political historian, one of the worst things in society is to have ineffectual and brutal enforcement of law because it undermines everything that Americans believe about the system – that it’s just, that it’s fair, that everybody’s treated equally.

“You want those things to be positive experiences, for both sides. I think if you can build those types of relationships, do those types of things, validate those people, I think it makes police officers safer as well.”

He said the fact that some people continued to violate the law does not mean that they are not protesting peacefully. They are, however, engaging in civil disobedience and should be willing to non-violently accept the consequences that come with that, just as so many people did during the Civil Rights era.

“I would encourage protesters to give their name, ID, to cooperate to the extent that they can. If there’s going to be violence it should not come from them,” Carter said.

If Brock and other political leaders can successfully grab hold of this opportunity, and both protesters and police can keep things peaceable, the community can make great progress, Carter said.

“Law enforcement has a compelling interest, rightfully so, in maintaining some semblance of order, and for the protection especially of protesters so that they’re not abused by anybody. But I would encourage a little bit of latitude here when it comes to this, because we want these people to remain engaged.”

“If I were an elected official or if I was a city official, I would think about it this way – this is an opportunity not just to address issues such as police brutality or racism but this is an opportunity to bring people who have largely been excluded from the power network, historically in this country, and locally, to bring them into the fold and make them a part of the solution.

“People will respond positively when you give them that opportunity.”

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