While it is a cynical move to use the death of a human being to rally a cause, the fact is that it often takes such an extreme measure to bring about change. We speak of a death not wanting to be in vain, and that should mean we will squeeze every last drop of goodness and positive change we can from such a tragedy. In the death of Greg Floyd, we had an opportunity as a nation to speak with one voice and to actually – amazingly! – unite. Because change is always slower than we like, that change would have taken place over weeks or months. But I am afraid that opportunity has now sadly been lost or lessened in the wake of violent protests.
I remember the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed pretty well. I was 12-years old and the footage of four police officers beating him with batons is still ingrained into my mind. I remember the 15-inch Magnavox television that aired the footage on Good Morning America. Those officers were acquitted in the nation was divided. That led to riots in one city.
Fast-forward 18 years. We have another video of another black man at the mercy of four police officers. This time, he died. And while I suppose there are always some people who will cheer on death, virtually no American would or has defended the death of George Floyd in any way. Anyone who saw that video was disgusted and wished that those who were videoing the encounter might have instead bull-rushed the police officer instead of watching Floyd die. (Though I understand such an act would mean taking their life into their own hands as well.)
With such unanimous agreement and disgust, the good that could have come out of this was a perhaps never-seen-before level of agreement for reform or change. At least the possibility of conversation was more present than with previous cases of police deaths. Do police officers need more training? (I’m pretty sure that Chauvin rejected his training when he had his knee on the neck of a man for nine minutes. Here’s a quote from an article about neck restraint in case you were wondering: “For most major police departments, variations of neck restraints, known as chokeholds, are highly restricted — if not banned outright.”) But, perhaps this is a time to look again at the data.Is there systemic racism in our society and our police forces? Some say, well, actually, the evidence does not point to that. But many or most Americans would’ve been open to that question. We would’ve been open to the research. We would’ve been open to an investigation. Because now we were hearing what we didn’t hear before.
It could have been a time and an opportunity for whites and blacks to come together to mourn and to reflect on what needs to change. Because, again, unlike even the death of Eric Gardner or Michael Brown, there was no controversy here. No one defended the police officer. But that opportunity was lost when the crowds became hostile due to what seems to be a lack of leadership. Various groups are coming together with no clear mission or cohesion. Cheers to the protestors who are attempting to stop the looting.
But peace was lost or made harder when the narrative became about the burning of buildings and cities and businesses and the death of even black police officers. One lasting image for me will be white women in pandemic masks flipping the bird to black police officers while claiming that black lives matter.
I’m afraid race relations will not improve as a result of this, at least not without a lot more work now than ever. Whites will feel – and many blacks will say it is earned – that no matter what they do or say, they are maligned as intrinsically racist without the possibility of denial. So deeply entrenched, in fact, is their racism that they aren’t even aware of it. Whites are now routinely called to repent of a white supremacy they did not know they held to, all for defending a way of life that supports something like the broad Western capitalist and Christian tradition. Not even an entire lifetime of good relationships with blacks will make a difference in the minds of those who are convinced that the chasm between whites and blacks in this country cannot be overthrown without the complete capitulation of something like the western Christian worldview. And judging by the desecration of synagogues, churches, and even the Lincoln and World War II Memorials, there is nothing that some of these protesters would not like to overthrow.
An opportunity for real dialogue was lost or diminished because whites will either simply clapback to virtue signaling or do their best to avoid such conversations altogether for fear of not being able to win for losing. Whites are told that if we show compassion then we are patronizing or displaying a savior complex. If we do nothing, figuring it’s none of our business, then we are part of the problem due to our silence. The reality is that most of us feel powerless, especially since we were not the police officer who killed a man in the first place.
In fact, this particular police officer was charged rather quickly and now three other police officers have been charged as well. This is how justice works. The system, in fact, is working. Perhaps we should reconsider whether police officers should be unionized, which might be the reason that he wasn’t fired after over a dozen complaints were made against him. But no, we won’t consider anything like that. We will make this a white/black issue that may be impossible to overcome.
The death of George Floyd was tragic enough. What makes it even more tragic is that everyone agreed that it was tragic, and still our news feeds were filled with murder, looting, and mayhem. And in spite of the fact that there are literally millions of positive interactions with police in this country every year, and in spite of the fact that many whites and police officers would gladly work to squash whatever negative interactions there are, it is harder to work together while cities are burning. Hopefully, some good can still come out of the death of George Floyd. But a week of rioting made that a much steeper climb.
Photo Credit- The Independent