Monday, June 15, 2020




          It’s now plain that weeks of social unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of the unarmed African American George Floyd in late May will spur huge changes in policing across America and California.

          But what else? For landmark demonstrations through history sometimes produced major changes affecting much more than the immediate targets of the protesters.

          Anti-tea tax protests of English colonists in Boston, which British authorities called riots at the time, helped spur the American Revolution and world-changing concepts of democracy. The storming of the Bastille about 15 years later not only freed political prisoners it aimed to break loose, but toppled the royal Bourbon dynasty that ruled France and much of Europe for centuries.

          Anti-war protests across America in the 1960s not only led to the end of the Lyndon Johnson presidency, but undermined the U.S. war effort in Southeast Asia, eventually leading to an American pullout and a subsequent wave of immigration from Vietnam.

          Most likely, many potential and partially complete changes will later be seen as fallout from the last month’s wave of demonstrations and the opportunistic looting that accompanied some of the them. These have involved more people around the world than any since the era of the Vietnam War.

          For one thing, the protests exposed President Trump’s disregard for constitutional rights, shown when he ordered tear gas and rubber bullets used to clear Lafayette Park opposite the White House of peaceful demonstrators so he could walk to a photo opportunity that made him look silly. That misplay further exposed his lack of candor when he lied about use of tear gas.

          No one knows for sure whether that will help end his presidency or lead to some new kind of constitutional crisis, but it did produce an unprecedented memo from the Trump-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Mark Milley reminded fellow military commanders their oaths are to the Constitution, not loyalty oaths requiring them to follow illegal orders from the commander in chief. No previous top military commander ever felt the need to spell this out.

          Prior to that memo, rumors circulated that Trump was considering a refusal to leave office if defeated this fall. The memo pretty much quashed that talk. So if the rumors were correct, one result of the demonstrations may have been to help preserve American democracy.

          In California, the protests vastly increased chances of the Legislature putting a new proposition on the November ballot aiming to overturn the 1996 Proposition 209 ban on affirmative action in university admissions and other areas. That measure passed the state Assembly within a day of Floyd’s burial, and figures to pass the state Senate easily. There’s also a start to serious discussion of reparations for descendants of slaves.

          And the protests produced budgetary shifts likely to put more funds into projects benefitting areas of the state that are majority-minority. They have already caused some employers who rarely did so before to consciously cast about for minority job candidates. And the city of Fort Bragg, named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, may get a new name.

          But policing will be affected most quickly. Major police departments like those in Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen their proposed new budgets cut by tens of millions of dollars. They also face proposals to gradually defund them, with smaller, community-controlled units as replacements.

          Gov. Gavin Newsom almost immediately ordered the state’s police training agency to stop teaching carotid choke holds constricting the main artery to the brain. Then California’s largest local police academies swore off teaching the knee-on-neck tactic that killed Floyd.

          Police know they risk further protests if they don’t weed out officers with criminal pasts and start recruiting new cops less inclined to mistreat persons under their control. No one is sure how they’ll do that, but it’s now a must.

          These are just some of the obvious effects of the weeks of civil unrest.

          As with past protests like the Boston Tea Party and the storming of the Bastille, no one knows what else might follow. But it’s already plain the effects will help shape politics and some lives for years to come.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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