In recent days, demonstrations around the United States protesting the too-common deaths of unarmed Black men and women, from Ahmaud Arbery to Breonna Taylor to George Floyd, have been in full force. The protestors have been met with violence from police forces around the country, and faced rubber bullets, tear gas, and weaponized vehicles. But while millions of Americans grieved the deaths of Black men and women and sympathized with the protestors, others mourned something very different: their favorite shopping destinations.
As part of the coverage of the protests, news stations aired videos and images of protestors vandalizing storefronts. In Minneapolis, the Target on Lake Street — the location closest to where George Floyd was killed — was battered. In Los Angeles, the high-end shops of Rodeo Drive saw broken windows. In New York City, fireworks went off near Chanel and other designer boutiques. Upon seeing those images, the conversation shifted for many Americans. They turned away from what the protestors were fighting for and toward questions about what the future would hold for glossy corporate storefronts, high-end shopping centers, and the concept of retail therapy — they valued property over human lives.
Property damage during protests, though, isn’t done without reason, and the destruction of these businesses comes from a place of pain and mourning and, yes, anger. This is part of the nature of protests, including the 1991 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, and the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969, which famously started after a brick was thrown through a window. When a business is destroyed during a protest, it tears down the wall between “us vs. them,” showing how property belonging to “them” —wealthier, usually white people -— is just an illusion that can easily be shattered.
But, over the weekend, social media began to flood with a different "us vs. them" rhetoric, one which showed how deeply invested "they" are in the illusion that we are what we buy. Rather than help out by contributing to bail funds or GoFundMe campaigns for the families of victims of police violence or donating to racial justice organizations, groups of people around the country spent their time cleaning up the damage done to stores, and forming human chains in front of billion-dollar corporations. Meanwhile, similar shows of support for smaller, local businesses were nowhere to be found in the media.
It was a revealing moment, one which demonstrated that many Americans sympathies only extend as far as their nearest big-box store. It's also important to recognize that chain stores have been closed en masse by their higher-ups in the wake of protests, and arrests have been made at certain locations — so they don't need more people protecting them. Besides, the vandalization of these stores only started after the first peaceful protest in Minneapolis was met with police brutality: officers in riot gear unleashed tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets on a crowd that was less than 24-hours into their mourning. This ignited something different, something actionable. And so protestors turned mourning into a revolution.
There is no sign of this revolution slowing down; there's no doubt we'll see more and more stores with "Black Lives Matters" or "ACAB" tags scrawled across their broken windows. For anyone inclined to judge, remember this: Rage, frustration, and helplessness don’t appear out of nowhere. Corporations don't need your sympathy. They are not people. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, and Tony McDade were people; their lives deserve to be defended and their deaths deserve to be grieved, in whatever form is deemed necessary.
And if you or anyone you know find yourself sad that you can't go to a superstore for a little while, consider how sad you'd be if you couldn't visit your friend, your daughter, or your father. Consider what's really important, and think about fighting for that instead.