Trevor Noah delivered an impassioned message breaking down recent news events involving black men being killed or threatened with police violence and explained to his The Daily Show audience why such acts can lead to protest violence and even looting.
Employing his usual mix of logic and empathy that the Comedy Central host has used to tackle complex issues in smart ways in recent years, Noah spent nearly 20 minutes in the above video discussing the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Central Park altercation between a dog walker (Amy Cooper) and a bird watcher (Christian Cooper), and the shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, as well the elements that link them all. “I don’t know what made that [Floyd] more painful, the fact that that man was having his life taken in front of our eyes, the fact that we were watching someone being murdered by someone whose job is to protect and serve, or the fact that he seemed so calm doing it,” Noah noted.
Noah described the news events as a series of falling dominoes that are receiving heightened scrutiny and impact due to people staying home during the pandemic. He also portrayed the volcanic reaction seen in city streets around the country over the weekend as not merely about some people taking advantage of peaceful protests. Noah did not condone looting, but offered context for why it happens.
“I saw so many people online saying, ‘These riots are disgusting, this is not how a society should be run, you do not loot and you do not burn, this is not how our society is built,'” Noah said. “But what is society? When you boil it down, society is a contract we sign as human beings amongst each other. ‘Amongst this group of us, we agree in common rules, common ideals, and common practices that are going to define us as a group.’ But if you think of being a black person in America who is living in Minneapolis, or any place where you’re not having a good time, ask yourself this question when you watch those people: What vested interest do they have in maintaining the contract? There are people who are destitute when the virus hit and are already broke. Black American people watch time and time again how the contract they have signed with society is not being honored by the society. When you watch Ahmaud Arbery being shot and you heard those men were released were it not for the video and the outrage, what part of the contract is that? When you see George Floyd on the ground losing his life in a way that no person should ever have to lose their life at the hands of someone who is supposed to enforce the law, what part of the contract is that? A lot of people say, ‘Well, what good does this do?’ Yeah, but what good doesn’t it do? How does it help you to not loot Target? Because the only reason you didn’t loot Target before was because you were upholding society’s contract. There is no contract if the law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it.”
“That unease that you felt watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day,” he added. “Because that’s fundamentally what’s happening in America. Police in America are looting black bodies. And I know someone might think that’s an extreme phrase, but it’s not because here’s the thing: I think a lot of people don’t realize that George Floyd dying is part of the reason the story became so big. How many George Floyds are there that don’t die? It’s only the gruesome deaths that stick out. Imagine to yourself, if you grew up in a community where every day someone had their knee on your neck … you tell me what that does to you as a society when you know that this is happening because of the color of your skin.”
At the same time, Noah did express a bit of his characteristic optimism.
Noah didn’t cite Trump by name, but did provide a rebuke to those who sought to denigrate the looters. People often ask what good looting does, said Noah, before giving an answer: “What good doesn’t it do? That’s the question people don’t ask the other way around…. the only reason you didn’t loot Target before is because you were upholding society’s contract. There is no contract if law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it.”
He added, “That’s the thing people don’t understand sometimes. We need people at the top to be the most accountable, because they are the ones who are basically setting the tone and tenor for everything we do in our society. It’s the same way we tell parents to set an example for their kids, the same way we tell captains or coaches to set an example for their players, the same way we tell teachers to set an example for their students. The reason we do that is because we understand in society that if you lead by example, there is a good chance that people will follow that example you have set. If the example law enforcement is setting that they don’t adhere to the laws, then why should the citizens of that society adhere to the laws when in fact the law enforcers themselves don’t?”ADVERTISEMENT
Noah also used his commentary to call out the notion that there is a “right way to protest,” specifically citing how former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was routinely condemned for kneeling during performances of the national anthem as a peaceful protest against police brutality.
“There is no right way to protest, because that’s what protest is,” Noah said. “It cannot be right because you are protesting against a thing that is stopping you. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is the same way that you might have experienced more anger and more visceral disdain watching those people loot that Target… if you think about that unease you felt watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day.”
He continued: “Because that’s fundamentally what’s happening in America. Police in America are looting black bodies. I know someone might think that’s an extreme phrase, but it’s not. Because here’s the thing I think a lot of people don’t realize: George Floyd died. That is part of the reason the story became so big, is because he died. But how many George Floyds are there who don’t die? How many men are having knees put on their necks?”
Noah concluded by asking viewers, especially those who are white, to put themselves in the position of people who have protested in the last week. “They were destroying the contract that you thought they had signed with your society,” he said. “Now, think to yourself—imagine if you were them, watching that contract be ripped up every single day. Ask yourself how you’d feel.”
“One ray of sunshine for me was seeing how many people instantly condemned [the Floyd video],” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. Especially not in America. I haven’t seen a police video come out and just see across the board — I mean, even Fox News commentators and police chiefs from around the country — immediately condemning what they saw. No questions, not, ‘What was he doing?’ Just going, ‘No, what happened here was wrong.'”
It’s worth checking out Noah’s full 18-minute self-shot video as he gives more context and detail to his thoughts.