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Opinion The deaths that don’t fit the ‘defund the police’ narrative

Flowers and messages are left at a memorial for David Dorn, a 77-year-old retired police captain who was killed during overnight rioting in St. Louis on June 2. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
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My heart breaks for George Floyd and for any Americans who fear they might become the next George Floyd simply because of the color of their skin.

My heart also breaks for Dave Patrick Underwood, a black officer in the Federal Protective Service who was shot while guarding an Oakland, Calif., federal courthouse during the unrest in his city. His sister posted on Facebook: “My brother … was murdered … while on duty during the riots. This Violence Must Stop.” A second, unidentified officer was also shot alongside him and is reportedly in critical condition.

My heart also breaks for David Dorn, a retired African American police captain who was killed in St. Louis while protecting a friend’s pawnshop from looters. His death was captured on Facebook Live, during which an onlooker, his voice shaking, cries out, “They just killed this old man at the pawnshop over some TVs … c’mon man, that’s somebody’s granddaddy.” Indeed, Dorn was a father of five and had 10 grandchildren.

Full coverage of the George Floyd protests

My heart breaks for Chris Beaty, an African American former offensive lineman for Indiana University, who was shot dead in an alley in Indianapolis after leaving a demonstration that had turned violent. My heart breaks for Italia Marie Kelly, a 22-year-old black woman in Davenport, Iowa, who was shot in the back while getting into her car, trying to escape a protest that had turned into a riot. Her mother, Sharon, tearfully told the local news, “She was here trying to protest peacefully. These idiots just want to take it out of control and bring guns to a situation that don’t need to be here. This needs to stop. It needs to stop now before another mother has to grieve like I do, and cry over her baby gone.”

The violence is a tragedy not only for those who lost their lives but also for those who lost businesses they spent a lifetime building — some of whom do not have the means to rebuild. Korboi Balla is a black firefighter who poured his life savings into a Minneapolis sports bar that was reduced to a pile of bricks. He has no insurance. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he told reporters. “It hurts, man. It’s not fair, it’s not right. We’ve been working so hard for this place. It’s not just for me, it’s for my family.” Derrick Hayes is the African American owner of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks in Atlanta. He put up signs identifying his shop as a black-owned business but had the windows smashed anyway. “Honestly, I was in disbelief. If we’re all in this together, let’s show that we’re all in this together,” he said.

It’s not just the owners but their employees, too, whose lives have been devastated. After suffering the worst economic destruction since the Great Depression during the pandemic, which disproportionately affected African Americans, many had just returned to work — only to see the business that employed them destroyed. My heart breaks for Gina Robinson, a black woman in Chicago who posted this message on Twitter last week: “I’m so hurt. I’m barely surviving and not only did y’all burn my job (Walgreens) down but the grocery store in my neighborhood was looted for what. Now my mom can’t get her prescription or food. How was this ‘for us’?”

Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project urges protesters to connect what they are demanding in the streets with what they are choosing at the polls June 9. (Video: Joel Adrian/The Washington Post)

That’s an excellent question. It is inspiring to see so many Americans of all colors marching in solidarity with George Floyd. We are all rightly outraged by what happened to him and to all other black victims of police violence and unequal treatment. But where is the outrage for Dave Patrick Underwood, David Dorn, Chris Beaty, Italia Marie Kelly or the others who lost their lives because of the violence in our cities?

Nowhere to be found, because their deaths don’t fit the narrative. It’s hard to chant “defund the police” while demanding justice for a retired black police captain and a young federal officer who gave their lives, or the other innocent black Americans who were killed during the riots. So their stories are just swept under the rug and forgotten.

Sorry, if we truly believe as a nation that black lives matter, then their lives must matter, too.

Read more:

Marc A. Thiessen: What the outrage over Trump’s tough talk gets wrong

Erik Wemple: ‘They’re just showing the violence’: Protesters sound off on coverage of George Floyd backlash

Charles Lane: A 1989 Supreme Court ruling is unintentionally providing cover for police brutality

Karen Attiah: Ben’s Chili Bowl and the business of black survival

Henry Olsen: Progressives have more power than anyone else to improve the lives of black Americans