For the past week, I’ve been trying to work through my thoughts on the growing situation surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Maybe you consider murder to be too strong of a term to use for what happened to him. And, I’ll be honest here: I can’t watch the video. Just can’t get myself to do it. I’ve read the police report. I’ve read through the transcripts of the number of videos that exist of the situation. But I simply can’t watch the video itself. So, I’m definitely not the person to put a label on what actually happened, even outside of my lack of legal or medical expertise. But what I can say, without feeling like I’m overstating my knowledge of the situation, is that this is yet another video of a black man being forcefully restrained for a crime that should not have required this level of force. In the situation that this man, who was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit twenty dollar bill, had been resisting arrest through the means of intentionally falling over and not stopping moving (as is stated by the police), I think we can all agree that a knee to the neck should not be considered the primary method of restraining him. My kids use those same techniques all the time and not once have I even considered putting my knee on their neck, followed by the entire weight of my body, as a response to that situation. I can think of countless other means by which to handle that situation without causing injury and I’m not even trained in the methods by which to restrain people.
Whether or not you want to consider this murder, I think we should all be able to agree that unnecessary force was utilized to apprehend a person allegedly attempting to use a counterfeit bill and that force led to his death. And that force was applied by the very people we rely on to keep us safe. There is no reason for George Floyd to have died. He was accused on a non-violent crime, accused of non-violent refusal to cooperate with the police, and was restrained using violent means.
Yet, in seeing our national response to this situation, I can’t help but feel that there are those of us who believe that this is a valid outcome to the situation.
An unarmed human, regardless of skin tone, dying as a result of their interactions with the police is unacceptable.
These men were not using appropriate force for the situation, but even if George Floyd were armed and actively shooting at people, our men and women in blue are trained to use non-lethal force first. And sure, Derek Chauvin may not have had his hands around George Floyd’s neck and holding tight until George’s last breath was breathed, but he most definitely wasn’t looking for the safest way in which to restrain George Floyd.
This is why people of color, and their allies, are protesting all across our globe. Because our system in America today allows for something like this to happen. Yes, these officers were fired the following day, but this is not a unique situation. Videos such as the one involving Derek Chauvin and George Floyd appear often enough that even those who argue against the Black Lives Matter movement are aware that the Black Lives Matter movement exists because of exactly this type of situation. And with how often we see this caught on video, shouldn’t we be curious to know how often it happens when cameras aren’t around?
Another question for you: where are the similar videos of white people being restrained?
Imagine being someone who feels as though their very skin color makes them unsafe in the presence of the people we have tasked with keeping us safe?
Again, this is unacceptable.
And so our country protests. It protests against the system that allows such racism and repression to continue to exist. And for decades now it has done so in relatively peaceful manners. And for decades now, we look at those peaceful protests and declare them un-American. Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem and our country screamed at him for not respecting the very country which causes him to not feel safe in his skin. Almost immediately after the Black Lives Matter movement was created, we saw Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter crop up, as a way of completely ignoring the systemic issues in place which causes our country’s people of color to literally fear for themselves when in the presence of our nation’s officers who are dedicated to the task of serving and protecting.
And then the violence began. Although there are some reporting that the violent aspects of these protests are being orchestrated by groups which are decidedly racist, I have to admit that a violent response feels like the only option we have left to state how this is not an acceptable way to treat our fellow countrymen…or people of any country. We denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement because of the deaths that occur to our country’s police officers in the line of duty. But those men and women in blue chose the blue. They chose their career. They live in danger because they choose to serve and protect our country. And they can quit at any time. People of color do not choose the color they wear on their skin and many are terrified for their lives because of it. And we laugh. We state how that fear is unimportant. Yet, whether or not you consider that fear to be founded on any sort of truth, the fear itself is very real. And we’re doing absolutely nothing about it.
My mother recently told me a story of being horrified while on a beach in South Carolina when she was a child during the time of desegregation as she witnessed a black man being beaten for walking onto the white person portion of the beach. It has been over fifty years since the South has been desegregated, and we’re still seeing, across the country, how we are still in the midst of an extreme racist and classist battle for our country. What are the chances that that man on the beach saw justice for the violence against him? What are the chances that men and women like George Floyd today would see justice were it not for the acts of people who outwardly protest and make these situations known to the public at large?
Yet, even with those protests, the violence against people of color continues. I’m honestly surprised that there is any peacefulness left to this protest by this point. Violence has long been the only true catalyst for change. Abraham Lincoln, when elected President, publicly stated numerous times that he had no intention of freeing the slaves in the southern states. The Emancipation Proclamation only occurred as a result of intense violence.
I’m absolutely sickened by not only how racist and classist our country still proves to be against people of color and those who are impoverished. But I’m just as disgusted by those of us who see the plights of our fellow man, those plights they must endure simply because of the situation of their birth, and choose to pretend they don’t exist.
We are the problem.
All of us.
And I wish I knew how to fix it.
But what I do know is that we can no longer stand for allowing such mentalities to exist. We can no longer allow for our fellow countrymen and countrywomen to think that it is okay that our police forces are antagonizing entire groups of our country. If the police do not allow people to feel safe, then we are in a police state. And that does not bode well for any of us.
I stand by our nation’s people of color as they battle for their right to feel safe. For their right to live. For their right to feel equal.
I sincerely hope you do as well. Because if you are someone who believes that George Floyd deserved to die, you most definitely need to reconsider your own priorities. And if you think that there is no reason for people to react violently to his death, then you either haven’t been paying attention, or should board up your windows.
Even if George had been knowingly attempting to pass a counterfeit bill off as real currency, Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers managed to act as judge, jury, and, ultimately, executioner. Even beyond the color of his skin, this is not acceptable.