Over the weekend thousands of people across the country gathered to protest to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.
While there were peaceful protests at numerous locations, near-riots in other cities resulted in property damage, arrests, curfews, and the National Guard being called into states across the country.
Wall Street has mostly shrugged off the weekend’s protest demonstrations once the market opened Monday.
After all, the current protests aren’t as economically disruptive as they could be due to coronavirus lockdown parameters.
But Wall Street should care because the anger and frustration that has driven people to the streets aren’t going away any time soon.
“Part of what is happening in Minneapolis is the venting of the frustration of the hopeless and those perceived as valueless,” Hannibal Johnson, author and attorney, told TheStreet. “When incidents like these are not addressed in ways that promote justice this is the result.”
Johnson has published numerous books about the race riots in Tulsa’s all-black Greenwood district 99 years ago yesterday in 1921 including Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District. The neighborhood’s main avenue was nicknamed Black Wall Street because it was a bustling business district filled with black-owned stores.
Black Wall Street was the fulfillment of capitalism’s promise.
The descendants of slaves that were freed just 60 years prior had overcome racist policies meant to keep blacks in poverty to create a black economic oasis in a state where the Ku Klux Klan secret society forced the state to declare martial law in 1923.
And while many historical accounts focus on the bustling Deep Greenwood thoroughfare, which featured world class jazz clubs and restaurants, the city’s economic prosperity is better illustrated by the fact that at the time, Oklahoma had only two airports while six different black families owned their own planes.
All of that changed in 1921 when Dick Rowland grabbed the arm of the white woman operating the rickety lift in the building where he shined shoes to keep himself from falling over. The girl, 17-year old Sarah Page, shrieked at the sudden touch from the black man.
Page eventually declined to prosecute Rowland but white Tulsans stormed the courthouse holding Rowland demanding the newly elected sheriff of Tulsa County, Willard M. McCullough, hand him over to them. Black Tulsans converged on the scene sparking the events that spanned over two days that ended with a reported total of 36 people dead (26 black, 10 white), 800 hospitalized and 10,000 left homeless after 35 city blocks of housing and 1,256 homes were destroyed.
An Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 was completed in 2001 and "There were an undetermined number of deaths, both black and white, with estimates ranging from the official count of 36 to approximately 300. Over 1,000 residences were burned and another 400 looted. The business district of Greenwood was totally destroyed and probably accounts for much of the $4 million in claims filed against the city in 1921."
In a night dubbed the Tulsa Race Massacre, the crown jewel of black capitalism lay in ruins at the hands of whites furious that a black man dared to touch a white woman.
Nearly a century later the situation has flipped.
Instead of mobs of whites marauding through black neighborhoods destroying property, this weekend’s riots featured a coalition of groups clashing with police officers in the economic centers of the country’s biggest cities.
Los Angeles arrested more than 500 people as part of an effort to enforce a curfew on Friday night.
Minneapolis fully mobilized the National Guard to enforce their curfew Saturday. The state extended that curfew as well as highway closures into Sunday evening.
About 5,000 National Guard troops in 15 states and the District of Columbia with another 2,000 on standby, according to the National Guard Bureau.
The current unrest reminds Johnson of the Red Summer riots of 1919, two years before the Tulsa uprising when there were two dozen race riots across the United States. Johnson called that summer “the nadir of race relations in the United States.”
Johnson went on to describe the current protests, “Do I condone breaking and entering and looting? No. And there will always be people who take advantage of that. There are two different kinds of protests going on... I don’t condone the destruction of property, but that’s not to say that I don’t understand it. People need to be in the fight for the long haul. We need to understand that we have allies in communities that are not black. We need to leverage those contacts and keep pushing forward even when we meet opposition.”
Which brings us back to how we got here in the first place.
Video footage of Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he was handcuffed and face down on the ground may have sparked the latest round of unrest, but police mistreatment of black men, in particular, is the powder keg on which the U.S. sits.
During his 19 year career with the Minneapolis Police Department, Chauvin had 18 complaints on his official record, had been involved in three police shootings and has been officially reprimanded multiple times. Despite a record marred by misconduct, Chauvin was allowed to stay on the police force long enough to eventually kill someone which led to his firing and arrest.
America appears to be fed up with police killing Black Americans and big-name public companies are weighing in on confronting racism.
Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report and Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report received a positive response online after posting tweets over the weekend standing in solidarity with the people in the streets. Unfortunately, those words won’t mean anything unless real reform is on the table.
If Netflix, Microsoft and other giant corporations want to fight injustice they can start by wielding their influence. Starting in the municipalities in which they do business by helping reform police departments would be a good start.
Global investment firm BlackRock recently made shareholder activism one of the planks of its firm and has threatened to vote against corporate directors who don’t incorporate the firm’s views on environmental and social issues.
Wall Street has the power to aide people marching on main streets across America and we all have the power to advocate for real change at this crucial moment in history.