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On a wild night in Naperville, the police rise above it all

For hours, the protest was peaceful. Then it got ugly. But as somebody yelled “F— the police. F— the peaceful riot,” the cops didn’t take the bait.

How were most of the demonstrators protesting in downtown Naperville on Monday?

They were sane and responsible, though annoying as hell, marching, chanting and stopping traffic. That was the point. If a demonstration doesn’t annoy somebody, pushing them to think about things they’d rather not, it’s a failure.

The Naperville police?

They were restrained. Admirable. They lived up to their training. They put up with taunts, insults and physical intimidation from people who didn’t even know their names. Who just saw cops, as if that were enough.

The stocky guy with the long pony tail in the red shirt who kicked off the looting? What a jerk. We hope he was arrested. We’ve got a call into the Naperville police to find out. We can hope.

We hope every jerk who did their best to turn a peaceful protest over a deadly injustice — the way African American men keep getting killed for no good reason by cops and vigilantes — was arrested.

But watch the video, taken by a cool-headed videographer from Aurora, James D. Buzzard. It runs about three hours; there’s a shorter version at the top of the online version of this editorial at suntimes.com.

Stills taken from a Facebook Live video where instigators smashed windows in downtown Naperville at a scene that was a peaceful protest just moments before.
James D. Buzzard of BuzzLabs Creative

Decide for yourself. Who made a good point? Who destroyed that point? Who demonstrated class? Or no class?

Sixteen minutes into the video, several hundred protesters, young people of different backgrounds and colors, sit and kneel in an intersection outside a Barnes & Noble. The traffic light turns green to yellow to red to green but the cars go nowhere, backed up for blocks.

If you’re in one of those waiting cars and you find this demonstration ridiculous, so it goes. Now might be a good time to think about how a police officer in Minneapolis on May 31 kneeled for more than eight minutes on the neck of black man named George Floyd, killing him.

The protesters are shouting, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” A young African American or Latina woman is shouting into a bullhorn.

“We have a right to protest,” she is saying. “I could be next. You could be next. I don’t want to be f—— murdered.”

It is late in the afternoon. The sun is up, but as the demonstration goes on for another hour in this furious but utterly peaceable way, the sun sets.

And the crowd grows thinner.

And those who remain move about a little more restlessly as a police SWAT vehicle rolls into place.

An hour and 20 minutes into the video, dozens of protesters are still kneeling outside the bookstore. They are holding up their hands, as if in surrender, and saying to a line of officers ten yards away, “Don’t shoot.”

An officer with a bullhorn makes an announcement. You can’t see him, but you hear it: “You’re disturbing the public peace.” Please “disperse.”

When the police in Aurora made this same announcement on Sunday night, Buzzard says for the video, “the next thing you know, tear gas started flying.”

But there is no tear gas in Naperville. The cops just stand there, shields at the ready.

At one hour and 29 minutes into the video, somebody blows off a firecracker — something big, loud and flashy — right at the feet of the police.

Buzzard says for the camera, “Everything is going super smooth” and “it only takes one idiot to ruin it.”

Boarded-up businesses line the streets of Naperville’s city center on Tuesday morning.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

People run up the street, down an alley, into a parking garage. A few minutes later, they gather again, though in even smaller numbers now, outside a furniture store.

It’s one hour and 33 minutes into the video when the jerk in the red shirt pops up. He falls to his knees in front of the police. We can’t hear what he’s saying. Then he hops up and walks along the row of officers, taunting each of them, poking a finger an inch from their faces and shields.

Somebody off camera says “F— the police. F— the peaceful riot.”

And now people are walking fast, jogging. Something’s happening. The guy in the red shirt, getting things going, tries to kick in the door of a store.

At one hour and 36 minutes into the video, you hear the sounds of glass breaking. Over and over. Store windows are being smashed.

Looters pour into a clothing store. They grab everything. Somebody makes off with a mannequin.

The destruction is almost casual. Somebody tosses a rock through another store window while strolling by.

Still there is no tear gas. There is no pepper spray. We see no batons flying.

Still there is no out-of-control cop from an affluent suburb beating on a helpless demonstrator, which the violent fringe of the protesters hoped to trigger and capture on cellphones, further dividing our divided country.

The Naperville police — like the vast majority of demonstrators until the fools took over — handle themselves with honor.

At one hour and 47 minutes, you hear explosions again. More fireworks, you realize. Not a gun.

One minute later, the clown in the red shirt runs by again. He drops a sweater or coat that he did not have before.

He runs on, out of camera range.

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