Like most of America, I have watched from a safe distance the protests that erupted after George Floyd was killed. 

I feel sick.

When I drove home through downtown Salt Lake City early evening Saturday, I was stunned to pass a parking lot filled with police cars from around the state, as well as armored military vehicles, then firetrucks and emergency vehicles a block away. There was no room in the parking lot that served as a makeshift staging area. It was shocking in this orderly city to pass so many intersections blocked by police. I saw smoke rise from a burning police car and on 500 South, multiple business signs I passed had been defaced with graffiti.

At home, I watched chaos on television until police dispersed the crowd, arresting some who refused to leave.

Monday, I was relieved to see a peaceful protest and warm human interaction between law enforcement and protesters. Some really talked and listened.

In some cities, protests showing humanity at its very worst — on both sides — have sucked so much air from the room they threaten to suffocate the ability to talk: Officers and protesters hurting each other amid fires and broken glass. Legitimate reporters who clearly identified themselves deliberately hit by rubber bullets (one was shot in the eye) or arrested (Woops! they said after). It was not one-sided. At multiple demonstrations, police ducked against a barrage of water bottles, rocks and even bullets. 

No peace, no conversation, no resolution. Just brawling and boiling rage. Destruction, not construction.

Realities have varied. In some communities, police have shown empathy for the protest goal: raising awareness that black lives are lost or tossed by unfair treatment throughout the criminal justice system. It’s a giant “Help Wanted” sign.

Deseret News reporter and his wife explore the perils of being black in America
Watch: Going inside Salt Lake City’s Monday night protest

The black community isn’t crying “wolf.” When my Deseret News reporter friend Jasen Lee and his wife, Bridget, say they’re scared because they are African American, they are recounting whole-life experiences I will never have. 

Unfair, unequal treatment by law enforcement and the justice system is real — and no, it’s not every officer or judge. But the imbalance in justice must be faced. Police need to police their ranks. Children must be raised to be inclusive, shunning a somewhat subtle but corrosive mindset that emphasizes differences in bad ways.

I would like to think I don’t have that and surely never passed it to my kids. But is it true? Racism has different hues.

The protests are supposed to spark conversation and ultimately change. In too many of them, the message has been drowned because of agitators. They’re vandals. Throwing bricks through windows and burning cars doesn’t promote systemic change.

It allows people to write off the plea for help.

And here’s another problem. Many of us boast, “I want to be tolerant.”

That is not the same as inclusive. It doesn’t mean equal or embracing. Tolerant says I have the power to accept you. Or not. It should be second nature.

I am a white woman married to a Native American. He is sometimes treated badly. I like to think that’s taught me about racism. But my biggest fear if I am pulled over is facing a fine. No one treats me badly for my race.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice, posted a striking tweet featuring two pictures, side by side, of men in a similar pose: Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and Colin Kaepernick kneeling for his famed NFL protest of injustice toward black men.

King’s point — and my takeaway — is that anyone who is upset because Kaepernick takes a knee during an anthem, but not that someone kneels on the neck of a black man, is lost.

Truthfully, most of us don’t want these protests. Even peaceful rallies make us queasy. We’ll march to protect religious freedom or prevent nuclear war. But Black Lives Matter protests nudge us to look inside and see if we perhaps tolerate rather than embrace. They call those of other races — especially those of us who are white — to ask ourselves hard questions. They could spark conversations we do not want to have.

If we don’t want to talk about it, we need to talk about it.