This is usually just a book blog… but the times are not usual, and I can not in conscience ignore what is going on. To be silent is to be complicit. Therefore, I must address it.
The news last week and this has been horrifying and sobering. The killing of Mr. Floyd should outrage everyone, regardless of their politics or the color of their skin. Thanks to video and bystander accounts, it’s clear that Mr. Floyd, who was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill*, was already handcuffed and on the ground when Officer Chauvin knelt on his neck, ignoring Mr. Floyd’s repeated pleas and cries of “I can’t breathe.” The policeman continued to kneel on Mr. Floyd’s neck for several minutes after he became non-responsive and another officer failed to find a pulse. It’s impossible to see this as anything but murder.
Mr. Floyd’s death, the deaths of too many other African Americans at the hands of the police, and the protests that have resulted are not something I, or any of us, can or should ignore. Mr. Floyd’s death and others like it are an affront the American ideals of justice, equality, and fairness. The protests spring from decades of anger and grief and despair, not only over these individuals’ deaths but over the fact that black people, particularly black men, are (proportionally) less likely to be treated with respect by police, and more likely to have those encounters escalate even when they are responding politely and trying to follow orders.** They spring, too, from anger and grief and despair over decades—centuries—of social and economic disparity, born of and perpetuated by policies and practices that have restricted many African Americans’ ability to participate in the American Dream, from redlining to the way that education is funded in this country.
As a white woman, I know I will never fully understand the black experience, nor the rage and grief caused by too many decades of racism both overt and subtle. Nonetheless, I stand with those protesting passionately but peacefully in saying that this must stop. Racism—institutional, societal, and individual—must stop. America is very good at decrying human rights abuses abroad, and telling other nations how they must treat their people. But we’ve been ignoring our own deep issues for far too long. It’s time to clean up our own house, and ensure fairness and equality for all our people.
We have all seen the news reports of protests turning violent. I absolutely, unequivocally decry all such violence and looting. However, I think it’s important to point out that it is not yet clear who is instigating the violence, nor why. While some peaceful protests appear have become violent spontaneously, there are reports and eyewitness accounts that suggest in some cases, it may be far-right and/or far-left extremists rather than protesters who have begun the violence, exploiting the protests for reasons of their own. (See this NYT article for more.)
Unfortunately, the violence allows the President and others (including those unsympathetic to the protesters) to ignore protesters’ righteous anger over Mr. Floyd’s death and a demand to fix the institutional systems that allowed it to happen, to a
militant quell-the-violent-thugs response. There is no question that the violence needs to be stopped. But we cannot afford to let that be our only response. As a nation, we have to address the factors that led to these protests. We made some strides during the Civil Rights era, but clearly, inequities persist. We have not done enough to redress and eliminate them.
Let’s do better this time.
*I have worked retail and food service. Some counterfeits are easy to spot; some are harder. On at least one occasion, I didn’t realize a $20 was counterfeit until the customer had left the restaurant—despite the fact that I was trained to recognize them. Family, friends, and Mr. Floyd’s employer remember him as “a great guy”, “a very nice man,” who was loved by coworkers and customers at the restaurant where he worked. Like many others, Floyd had lost his job due to coronavirus. I don’t know whether the suspicious $20 bill was actually counterfeit, nor whether Floyd was aware it was (if it was.) Based on my own experience and what has been said about his character, I think it’s entirely possible he had no idea. But regardless of whether his use of that $20 bill was deliberate or unwitting, he did not deserve to die as he did.
**Yes, some white people are badly treated or die unnecessarily at police hands, too. I’m not going to argue all the reasons why it’s different and why black people are proportionally more likely to be killed or injured by police; go read this Washington Post article.
One final note: If you were absolutely fine with armed protesters demonstrating against stay-at-home orders, but you’re not OK with peaceful protests about Mr. Floyd’s death, you might think about why.