Chris Cuomo: Hey, I never supported riots, people are weaponizing my words

The double standards never seem to end. This summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, there were peaceful protests in hundreds of places around the country, but there were also some serious riots and nights of looting in major cities. For most people on the right and left it wasn’t terribly hard to separate the peaceful protests from the violence but in some corners of the media there was a lot of discussion about riots as the language of the unheard and the suggestion that riots could be an effective way to create change.

So rather than just condemn the looting, vandalism and arson, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo decided to lecture his audience with the suggestion that maybe a little shouting and discomfort was to be expected. Here was his take:

“Show me where it says that protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful,” Cuomo said. Toward the end of the clip he added, “Looting, arson, violence, now that’s something else. Don’t confuse that with protest or the people doing it with protesters.” Today, Cuomo argued that “retrumplicans” had unfairly used his words against him:

I agree that the context here is important. For starters, “retrumplicans” weren’t attacking peaceful protests, they and the authorities in various cities were worried about violence and looting. That violence and looting and arson eventually did more than a billion dollars in damage. It wasn’t a minor thing. It was the most destructive civil unrest since at least the Rodney King riots.

And yes, it’s true that Cuomo wasn’t giving a green light for those things, but it’s also true that the timing and context of his own statements are important. Cuomo said this in early June, just a day or two after the worst riots the country has seen in years. The full record of the chaos that weekend is difficult to summarize, but here are a few snippets taken from NBC’s live blog published that weekend:

  • Mayors of major cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to Atlanta imposed curfews and at least 12 states, as well as Washington, D.C., activated National Guard troops in an effort to keep the peace, but protests in several cities descended into violence again as tensions boiled over.
  • California’s Department of Human Resources has ordered all state buildings in downtown city areas to close on Monday, according to the Associated Press.
  • One man has been killed after Louisville police officers and National Guard members attempted to disperse crowds during protests in the early hours of Monday morning, according to the chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department.
  • Boston Police Department has confirmed seven police officers were taken to hospital as a result of last night’s protests, with many more treated on the scene.
  • The Kansas City Police Department declared the protest an unlawful assembly and told demonstrators they must leave the area. The city’s curfew began at 8 p.m. local time.
  • Tensions between police and protesters continued as a citywide curfew began in Washington D.C. The Associated Press reported that police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters near the White House. Some protesters were seen starting a fire in the street, according to the AP.
  •  Five police officers and one civilian were injured in Denver, Colorado during the protests on Saturday night.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency and granted a request from the mayor of Richmond to extend a curfew in the city through Wednesday.
  • Nearly 400 people were arrested on Saturday during protests in Los Angeles, according to the LAPD. The charges include burglary and looting, vandalism, arson and curfew violations. The authorities said that five officers were injured and two were hospitalized.

You can add CNN’s own chyron to that list. It reads, “NYC bracing for unrest after night of widespread looting; curfew began at 8pm.” In short, the entire country was erupting with protests that frequently turned into unlawful assemblies or riots as night fell. Police officers were getting hurt. Protesters were getting hurt. In some places the riots were escalating to looting and arson. The anger was spiraling out of control.

It’s at this moment that Chris Cuomo comes along and says “Show me where it says that protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful.” And as someone pointed out, it’s not hard to find where it says that:

Yes, Cuomo covered himself by excluding looting and arson but he specifically suggested that people could violate curfews if that’s what they wanted to do. That’s not helpful when authorities are trying to lower the temperature by putting curfews in place.

Cuomo acts as if there is a stark line between angry protests and violence but what we actually saw all summer was that one thing frequently bleeds into the other. That’s where we got the phrase “mostly peaceful protest.” Day after day there would be peaceful marches in these cities and then after dark things would take a turn. That’s exactly why so many cities put curfew orders in place. They weren’t trying to stop the protests, they were trying to stop the violence that often followed them. The whole point was to tone down the anger that was boiling over and Cuomo is instead advising people to shout about the anger and break curfew if they want to.

Frankly, this is the same thing that happened last week. A bunch of worked up Trump supporters came to a rally and got worked up even more about stopping the steal. A short time later that anger boiled over and people were breaking windows and beating the hell out of Capitol police officers. In a situation like that you’re either helping to rile the crowd up (by justifying their anger) or you’re trying to talk them down. Last week Trump was on the wrong side. I have no doubt Cuomo would agree with that. Here he is taking Trump to task last week:

But last summer Chris Cuomo was on the wrong side too. The responsible thing for him to have said was that while anger is understandable, the fact that people were getting carried away and violence was breaking out around the country showed we needed to bring the temperature down and observe the curfews and act peacefully. Obviously that’s not what he said. He earned all the criticism he’s getting.