Ruben Navarrette: Protesters can hate police violence — and still love America
Summary: As a Mexican American, I reserve 100% of my love and gratitude for the "American" part of that phrase. In fact, I'm more of an American Mexican.
SAN DIEGO — Although I applaud the arrests of the four ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd and hope they get jail time, something has been bothering me about the protests.
It's not just the looting, arson, rioting and violence. That's bad enough. We need to see arrests and jail time for those crimes as well.
I've finally put my finger on the issue thanks to Floyd's niece, Brooke Williams, who spoke this week at Floyd's funeral in Houston.
What bugs me is the attitude of protesters. They're raging, and they have reason to rage. Yet many of them have abandoned reason. They're not just cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They're cutting their heads off.
Before I unpack that, here's a story that hits close to home.
As a Mexican American, I reserve 100% of my love and gratitude for the "American" part of that phrase. In fact, I'm more of an American Mexican. As such, I've always been baffled by Mexicans living in the United States who claim to love Mexico, even with all its flaws — which include a broken government that can't provide enough opportunities for its own people.
Sure, Mexicans in the United States have the prerogative to love a country that turned its back on them. Still, for many years, I just didn't get it. For me, Mexico is the country that cast off my grandfather as a boy because he had no money, dark skin, and a sixth-grade education. To heck with Mexico.
Then some of my Mexican friends taught me that, for them, Mexico is much bigger than its incompetent and corrupt government. In fact, most Mexicans separate the two. They hate the government but love the country.
Now, let's go back to the protests, and what Williams told those who gathered at the Fountain of Praise Church for Floyd's funeral. The mourners had come to grieve for an ordinary man who became a martyr for the cause of ending police violence.
But, before they left, they also got a dose of politics. In a dig at President Donald Trump, Williams declared: "Someone said, 'Make America great again,' but when has America ever been great?"
Excuse me? If Floyd's family, and the protesters, want to hate on the cops in Minneapolis who killed him, that's understandable. If they want to extend that resentment to Trump, that's fine too. And if they want to go further and profile all cops the way that many cops profile African Americans and Latinos, that may not be helpful but it does have a poetic ring to it.
But how about we leave America out of this? Otherwise, in my head, all this country boy hears is Merle Haggard. "When they're runnin' down our country, man, They're walkin' on the fightin' side of me."
Listening to Williams, I thought to myself: Someone needs a history lesson, followed up by a course in civics.
That goes double for those vandals who have, during the protests, spray-painted buildings with the word: "Amerikkka."
Such foolishness. What America are they talking about? What America do they see as systemically racist, made from the same cloth as the Ku Klux Klan? Not the one I know.
Racism will never disappear. But, if those who are upset over Floyd's death keep talking nonsense, their allies will.
America isn't perfect, and it never has been perfect. Its sins include enslaving African Americans, slaughtering Native Americans, stealing the Southwest from Mexico, and the internment of Japanese Americans, just to name a few.
But the genius of the place is that it has a computer chip deep inside that allows it to correct its imperfections. It has a brilliant system of checks and balances to keep any branch of government from eroding the rights of citizens. It's a safe bet that it has, over the last couple hundred years, spilled more blood to liberate the people of other countries than most nations have to defend their own people.
The world is full of countries driven by self-interest where people look out for their own kind. That's not how we roll.
Only in America will you see corporations fire CEOs who make insensitive remarks about Floyd or his death. Only in America will you see police officers marching with protesters who call for the defunding of police departments. Only in America will you see a little white girl holding up a sign on a street corner that reads: "Black Lives Matter."
That's my America. And is it great? You had better believe it.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at email@example.com.