Protester, politician and pundit comments from the weekend demonstrations and violence in St. Louis are a microcosm of the virus that has infected American society since the 2014 police shooting in neighboring Ferguson, Mo.
The virus that has spread through racial, gender, sexual and political issues is this: If you don't agree with me, you're wrong. Once that becomes the accepted viewpoint, instead of discussion, compromise or negotiation, anything can happen and has.
The latest protests and violence followed Friday's acquittal by a judge of a white former St. Louis police officer in the 2011 fatal shooting of a black drug suspect.
Typical of the reaction was this from Missouri Democratic state Rep. Michael Butler, who was was one of the protesters following the verdict:
"There's not been any learning from Ferguson," he said.
No learning since Ferguson?
Since Ferguson, police departments across the country have paid millions of dollars to give their officers body cameras so interactions between suspects and officers are recorded. Incidents can no longer be viewed as one-sided, especially if a suspect or police officer ends up losing his or her life.
"Trust is transparency, and transparency is trust," Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy said during an editorial board meeting with the Times Free Press Monday. "The body-worn cameras are part of that."
Also since Ferguson, many law enforcement agencies have paid consultants to give them all manner of training — and sensitivity — about incidents in which the officer and the suspect are of different races. Indeed, some experts have said such training has made the lives of law enforcement agents more dangerous because of a reticence to fire when confronted with deadly force in similar situations.
Roddy said the local department, long before Ferguson, had supports in place like a complaint system and a community-involved administration review process for incidents where police wrongdoing is alleged.
"Our community supports us, and we support them back," he said. "All those [supports] help breed that trust."
Another Missouri lawmaker, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Franks, who also demonstrated after the verdict, said all those who were violent and vandalizing businesses "are not protesters" but separate from organized marchers.
Perhaps the vandals were just opportunity shoppers, but other protesters suggested many had been provoked into violence because police showed up in riot gear and armored vehicles.
Not because they rolled up and began firing on demonstrators, Tiananmen Square-style, but because they arrived in protective gear and with defensive vehicles.
Police said they had to protect themselves once protesters began throwing things at them.
One protest organizer, Anthony Bell, said years of oppression caused some to act out in violence. He didn't elucidate who specifically was oppressing those who were violent.
Although vandals made it to the home of white St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, breaking out a window and spraying red paint on her house, other organizers said they wanted to spread the impact of the violence beyond predominantly black neighborhoods to those that are mainly white.
The attack on the home of the mayor was particularly troubling. Krewson was only elected in April, had nothing to with the investigation or trial of the acquitted policeman, and had expressed incredulity at the verdict. Not only that, but Krewson and her children were present in 1995 when her husband was killed in an attempted carjacking outside their home.
One man, according to the Associated Press, was sweeping up shattered glass from his friend's clothing and accessories boutique. People are understandably angry, he said, because the United States justice system is broken and needs to be fixed.
An acquittal by one judge concerning one police defendant, or three juries who acquit three other police defendants, does not mean the justice system needs repair. It means those in question didn't like the verdict.
"I'm not saying this is the right way to fix it," the sweeper said of the violence.
Nevertheless, he added, "The window is murdered. Nobody is going to have a funeral for the window. We can replace it."
Whether his friend, who will have to pay for the window, would say the same thing is not known.
Particularly ironic, though, was the damage done to the St. Louis Central West End library branch, where the interior was torn apart and windows shattered.
A library and other places of higher learning have the potential to give those who would riot a wider worldview, an innate confidence that keeps them from following the crowd and an ability to control their destinies.
Nonviolent demonstrations over a judicial verdict are a perfectly acceptable form of protest. And although violence is a form of protest, protest does not have to be violent.
When it is, it just perpetrates the theory of if-you-don't-agree-you're-wrong, and if you're wrong you must pay. As a nation, we must move beyond this.