I almost laughed when someone I know told me that protesters in Milwaukee were targeting white people, dragging them out of their cars for group beatdowns and taking out their rage on anyone whose skin color marked them as one of the oppressors.
"Where'd you hear that?" I asked. "Your Facebook feed? Drudge? Breitbart?"
I was skeptical because this person likes to get her news from right-wing websites, and I'd seen nothing about attacks specifically targeting white people in the sources I usually turn to for information -- about a dozen sites including The New York Times, CNN and USA Today, which has been running stories written by local reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
I was wrong.
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The right-wing sites aren't claiming anything -- the videos speak for themselves.
They show rioters chanting "Black power!" as they torch a Milwaukee gas station. They show a crowd of rioters attacking passersby in cars, yelling "Yeah they white! Get they ass!" and "He white, beat his head, bitch!"
Another video shows some of the protesters apparently realizing the gravity of the situation.
"Oh my God, oh my God!" one woman says, turning her cellphone camera toward a street where a group of rioters had pulled a woman from her car. “I think they just beat some white bitch ass for no reason -- they bust open the window.”
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So this is what it has come to. Our respectable news outlets have taken it upon themselves to sanitize the news, for reasons I can't even begin to fathom, while news outlets on the fringe are telling the truth. As a former newspaper reporter, I think I'm about done defending the professionalism of traditional news media.
Meanwhile, as violence gripped Milwaukee for the second straight night in response to the killing of a 23-year-old black man at the hands of police, Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has activated the National Guard. Contrary to some reports, the Guard hasn't been deployed -- it's on standby, ready to assist Milwaukee police if Mayor Tom Barrett says the word.
Having the National Guard at the ready is the right move in case things get to the point where police can't handle the situation. And they may.
But Bartlett has been wise to hold off on deployment as he gives his city's officers a chance to get the situation under control. While seething crowds torch storefronts, attack cops and burn cars by night, an army of volunteers fans out across the city by day, helping cops pick up the previous night's wreckage, looking to put the city back together.
The situation in Milwaukee is a complex powder keg that will not be defused by sending in the military.
City leaders have admitted as much, even if they disagree on the way to go about halting the violence.
"We need to continue to address the issues that people are frustrated by," Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton said, reported USA Today. "People want to feel like they're getting a fair shake."
The Rev. Jeffery Hawkins of Westside Missionary Baptist Church has a different view.
"We cannot blame the police for what is happening," Hawkins said. "I can understand we get upset when police kill one of ours but who is getting upset when we kill ourselves? That's where our anger should be."
There are conversations that need to happen, people who need to be heard, ideas that should be given serious consideration. But riotous crowds don't birth rational discussion, and the first priority for the city, its leaders and its people, is putting a stop to the self-destruction that has consumed the city over the weekend.
That's why the police should be given a chance. It's not easy, and it probably won't get any easier as crowds look to vent their frustration. Police have been shot at, and at least one was hospitalized after a protester tagged him in the head with a brick, causing a serious head injury.
But the local police are the ones who know the city, who are there to do a job. Who's to say what will happen if tanks start rolling in? There are good, proven reasons why the military and police are separate entities, even when it comes to the National Guard.
Aside from the way it looks -- an American military force deployed against civilians in an American city -- soldiers are trained as soldiers, not cops. With no offense meant to the professionalism of the Wisconsin National Guard, soldiers may not have the same level of restraint as police officers, and God help us if the nightly news starts relaying images of infantry platoons trading fire with American civilians, or crowds cheering as tanks go up in flames.
Barrett and local leaders should be applauded for their restraint, for not hitting the panic button. Let's hope that common sense wins out, that police are able to regain control without the help of the National Guard, and the healing process can begin.