Des Moines rioters echo violence, but fail to generate empathy

Photo: Daniel P. Finney

Smartphone video broadcast on one of the local television stations showed a handful of African-American boys. They walked in front of the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines. They smashed lights and threw things at windows. They shouted profanities as they ran along their destructive path.

I am supposed to believe these young men had joined a wave of protests nationwide about the grisly killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

I do not believe this. The people who marched and spoke earlier in the day at the State Capitol and other venues did so in solidarity against the ongoing, systematic injustices against African-Americans that have been with this land since the 1600s.

The 250 or so who showed up at dusk on the Court Avenue bridge between the downtown drinking district and the Des Moines police station at 25 E. First St. just wanted to raise hell.

They put on a show of violence and used the killing of Floyd as a veil to hide their anarchic intentions.

What did Des Moines police have to do with the death of Floyd? Yes, they’re police officers.

In the simple-minded vernacular of all good vs. all bad, police are cast as the villains in this morality tale. But which police?

There was no Des Moines officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck. If you’re truly moved to protest, get in a van with the members of your church or community organization and go to where the tragedy took place. That’s Minneapolis, not Des Moines.

That’s how Martin Luther King Jr. did it. He took the masses to the sites of injustice. He did not assume all to be unjust and protest wherever he could assemble a group.

I am not fool enough to think there are no race problems between Des Moines police and African-Americans in the capital.

But I am fool enough to believe you should yell at the people who committed the inflammatory offense rather than just anyone who has the same job.

Des Moines police sometimes have bent coppers, as they say in North Ireland. In 2013, well before the age of body cameras for every officer, former Des Moines Officer Colin Boone kicked a suspect who was already on the ground in the teeth.

The next day, 12 officers who were at the scene showed up to report to supervisors what they saw and asked the department’s Office of Professional Standards to look into it.

“The message was clear: They were not having that,” one of the supervisors told me of the dozen officers who came forward to speak out agains their fellow officer.

The officer was fired. He was eventually sent to federal prison for 63 months.

Am I fool enough to believe that Des Moines police always get it that right? No, I’m not.

But I’ll tell you this much: I believe in Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert. He is exactly the man you hope is your police chief. He is hard-nosed, hard-working and upholds the highest standards. He also happens to be kind-hearted and funny.

Wingert has let the department fall below full strength rather than force candidates through the police academy that might be trouble later. He’s known to give a speech at the academy in which he lays out his expectations for cops.

Recruits can be at the front of the pack, the middle of the pack or at the back of the pack, Wingert tells them.

“Be in the middle of the pack,” he says, “because if I know your name before you graduate, it’s not going to work out for you.”

Wingert likely has booted more academy candidates than any police chief. He does not care how much money has been invested in their training. If he gets an inkling a cop is going to break bad, he kicks them loose.

But Wingert was at police headquarters Friday night. He heard the obscenities. He absorbed the anger. His officers did their best to maintain peace when it was clear many assembled intended only unrest and destruction.

Even Ako Abdul-Samad, the state representative from the Drake University neighborhood, pleaded for peaceful protest. People put hands on him and rustled him.

This is not the action of people who will garner more sympathy, more empathy and more action by idle white Americans in confronting our national racism problem.

What these petty riots in Des Moines do is turn well-intentioned people away from the injustice. I confess my privilege. I know I will never know what it is like to be pulled over by police and wonder if it was because of the color of my skin.

I get that. I promise you, I do. I vote against those who stoke the fires of racial hatred. And if I thought Des Moines police were riddled with bent cops on white supremacy jags, I would stand on the lines and shout them down, too.

But breaking lights and throwing objects at cops? I’m out. I’m going to bed. I’m grabbing a book off the shelf and putting the phone on “do not disturb.”

Please spare me the “with us or against us mentality.” Any logical person can oppose both the killing of George Floyd and the violence of riots. They are separate acts, both wrong and both harmful.

Friday’s riots mimicked the violence in Minneapolis, but they failed to generate an ounce of empathy.

When you fight fire with fire, eventually everything burns.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at


  1. droll53 says:

    I was proud to watch our police at work. They showed strength and restraint at the same time. They had good training and the good leadership was visible. We don’t fully appreciate the peacekeeping force we have here. Thank you!


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