Three months before George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, top law enforcement officials in Minnesota recommended a way to reduce such deadly force encounters. They would designate a peacemaker. A state official would mediate disputes and promote healing in communities. The position has yet to be created. But the role was amply demonstrated last Monday – by Mr. Floyd’s brother.
Terrence Floyd visited the spot where his brother was killed and addressed the rioting and looting in Minneapolis and dozens of other U.S. cities. “I understand you’re all upset,” he told a crowd. “Let’s switch it up. Do this peacefully, please.”
He then defined peacemaking as a positive force, not merely the absence of violence. He urged people to channel their anger into educating themselves and using their power at the ballot box. He also led a prayer circle at the site.
In many other cities, peacemakers have rushed to deescalate the kind of violence that overtook peaceful protests following the May 25 killing. These activists range from church clergy in Columbus, Ohio, to former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell in Huntington Beach, California.
In New York state, the anti-violence group Buffalo Peacemakers promoted dialogue. A similar group, Cure Violence Global, was active in New York City. During protests Tuesday in Philadelphia, a plane flew over the city pulling a banner reading: “Bless the peacemakers for they shall inherit earth.”
These violence interrupters may not win the Nobel Peace Prize but surely they deserve credit for bringing restraint and understanding to the protests.
Last year, 47 of the world’s 195 nations witnessed a rise in civil unrest, according to the political analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft. In most of them, protesters had to decide whether the use of violent tactics would help or hinder their cause. In Hong Kong, for example, activists are severely divided on this question. The record is clear, however, on which path is better. A 2013 study by scholars Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more effective than violent insurgencies from 1900 to 2006.
To activists trying to prevent violence, peace is a verb. “At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love,” stated Martin Luther King Jr. Out of love for his brother last Monday, Terrence Floyd stood up to protesters using violence and showed that, for many on the streets of Minneapolis and elsewhere, peace really is a verb.