Thousands protested peacefully in Cleveland and many hundreds more in other communities including Bay Village and Avon to decry the death of George Floyd. After decades, and arguably centuries, of unequal treatment for African Americans, protesters want to see that change.

Here and across America, protesters are multi-racial and multi-generational.

It is not just unfortunate, but infuriating, that they have been labeled rioters, anarchists and all Black.

Protesters are protesters. Rioters are rioters. We have plenty of evidence, thanks to news coverage, that rioters were white, too. In Cleveland, as many as 3,000 people protested. Police reported the arrest of 99, and even if that number doubles as they continue efforts to identify more rioters and looters, the number is infinitesimal compared to those who were peaceful.

I was a student at Ohio University in May 1970. That spring, college campuses roiled with protests over the war in Southeast Asia, civil rights and women's rights, among others. It came to a boiling point when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four and injured nine students at Kent State. Within days, Ohio State, OU, Miami and Bowling Green were closed.

I still remember the withering looks I got from some adults who automatically judged me based on my age. I recall a few suggesting that protesting college kids were destroying the country and trying to turn it communist. It might have been true about some, but not all, including me. It certainly wasn't true for my high school and college friends who served in the military and returned from Vietnam sad and scarred by war. In those days, I did not even own a pair of jeans. I was furious with the armband-wearing guy who grabbed me by the arm to try to prevent me from going into a building for class that spring. Being judged unfairly, by adults who did not know me and my friends, stung.

That brings us to our current situation.

Just as it was untrue and unfair to label all college students as rioters and communists during the 1970s, the same applies to today's protesters who want to see unwarranted brutality and killing of unarmed African Americans stop. They want the justice system to work for all citizens the same way; not one way for one group and another for those who are not white.

Protest leaders advocate nonviolence. That doesn't mean they won't get loud as they march across America, they will. People who feel unheard become noisy. Think about the family member who cannot get a word in edgewise. What tactics do they resort to in order to be heard, have their opinions considered, get their needs met?

What happens when the thing that is important to them is not important to those they're trying to get to listen to them? What happens when they're ignored? What happens when that persists? How many family relationships fracture when this becomes a pattern of communication and behavior?

African Americans have asked, pleaded, worked through every means possible to be heard on issues of fairness and equality. Yet, they are still dying, they are still treated differently by the criminal justice system. The illegal roughing up, detention and deaths of African Americans at the hand of a small, but brutal, bunch of racist cops do not get the coverage and response that George Floyd's death received.

While I am sad it took a video showing his life being snuffed by a cop's knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, I am glad that America finally seems awakened. Thousands have taken to the streets to voice their outrage at his death and the circumstances surrounding it – the racist tactics, attitudes and systems that permeate not only the criminal justice system, but our education and health care systems.

And while there is still a group – although I believe it is shrinking – who believe everything is fine the way it is – scores of police chiefs and officers, mayors and other elected officials support the peaceful protesters’ fight for racial justice and the end to police brutality.

Perhaps one of the more startling reactions to the past few weeks events came from National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell. On Friday, he said, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much needed change in this country.”

The majority's silence has had deadly consequences for too long. It is time to speak up and insist that the rights guaranteed to all under the Constitution are not grudgingly, but freely, given and vigorously protected.

Michele Murphy is a freelance writer. She can be reached at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com.

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