What happened to George Floyd was not just wrong, but emblematic of a systemic problem with police and black men. Eugene Robinson, writing in The Washington Post, declared that “black lives remain expendable.” It seems, he’s got a very defensible point.
The newest video shows how three Minneapolis police officers put their full weight on Floyd’s body, with officer Derek Chauvin having his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck. Floyd was unarmed, and not suspected of any violent crime: it was forgery.
Let’s compare that to me. Yesterday, I was stopped by a local police officer while driving to work. Yes, I was speeding (like a hundred others driving past his radar, but a fisherman only catches one at a time). I pulled over, acted respectfully toward the officer, and got off with a warning. I’m white. He was white.
What the officer didn’t know is that I always have a loaded firearm in the car when I am driving. I also have a Georgia weapons carry permit, but I didn’t show that to the officer. But, say, I was Philando Castile? If you remember, Castile was stopped in St. Anthony, Minnesota, not far from Minneapolis, on July 6, 2016. He told the officer he had a weapon (for which he possessed a permit), and in the exchange that followed, Castile was shot seven times at close range, all the time protesting that he was not reaching for his gun.
In June, 2017, officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges in shooting–killing–Castile. I am not claiming the Floyd situation is the same as Castile; Floyd was unarmed and Castile told the officer he had a gun, but both involve black men and white officers.
The reason Yanez was acquitted is, as an on-duty police officer, he was given a large benefit of the doubt that he had reason to fear Castile’s movements were toward his gun. I personally find that difficult to believe, as why would Castile, who was a legal gun owner and permitted to carry concealed, announce to an officer he had a gun, then proceed to defy the officer’s command to not get it, telegraphing a deadly intent, with his four-year-old daughter in the back seat?
But no matter, the justice system did its thing, with no real justice served. Minneapolis had protests but didn’t explode like it has with Floyd. But really, can anyone blame the Minneapolis black community for its outrage?
The same biased logic used by Yanez, who claimed Castile looked like a robbery suspect because he had a “wide-set nose” is being cast in coastal Georgia, where three white men are charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Gregory McMichael, father of 34-year-old Travis McMichael, is a retired police officer and investigator for the District Attorney. This case has gone through several DA’s, one of whom wrote a letter explaining why two white men should not be charged for hunting down and killing an unarmed black man with a shotgun.
The third man charged, William Bryan, recorded the shooting with his cellphone, with cold disregard for what he was filming.
If I were black, I could easily be forgiven for entertaining the thought that it is open season on black men at the hands of police officers.
The black community demands, and deserves, justice.
It hasn’t helped that in yesterday’s press conference, neither the federal prosecutor, the FBI or the Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman were able to announce charges against any of the officers.
“That video is graphic and horrific and terrible, and no person should do that,” Freeman said. “But my job in the end is to prove that he violated a criminal statute, and there’s other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”
This is Castile/Yanez, Arbery/McMichael, and George Zimmermann all over again, or so it would seem.
But now we have a bigger problem. The mob wants to impose its own justice. And mobs, as they have a tendency to do, bring with them thugs, looters, criminals, violent gangs, anarchists, and all kinds of violence.
Robinson prefaced his own remarks with a condemnation of “riots, destruction, property theft and all manner of senseless violence,” but he said he understands the feeling animating them. As a white man who has only had positive interactions with the police (even in my far-past youth when not all those interactions were happy endings for me), I cannot viscerally know this feeling. But I suppose I can frame it thusly: I am of Jewish heritage. If I were to walk through the streets of west bank Bethlehem unescorted, I could probably get a pretty good dose of how it feels to be black and dealing with American law enforcement. It’s not a good feeling.
To take an even more on the nose example, look at how white men, armed with long guns (the “cosplaytriots”) were treated by police in Michigan, New Hampshire, and Washington state. There were no rubber bullets, no beanbag shotguns, no teargas. No burning police stations, no looted Targets either.
But I am not certain this is because those play-army gun-toters are oh-so-polite (perhaps they are scared of what would really happen should they do something incredibly stupid, though). I think a large part of it is how police expect white men with long guns in tactical gear to behave in a protest, versus how police expect young black men in baggy jeans worn at the thigh to behave.
If in this country, the police expect mob justice from the black community, then mob justice we will have. We must say no to mob justice, by all means. We should bring in the National Guard or any other measures to protect life and property. “Give them space” to riot is not a solution, it’s just pouring gasoline on a raging fire.
America needs to take a hard look at why that fire is burning, and why it’s not going out. The officers in Minneapolis who killed George Floyd and their fate is going to determine how hot that fire might get this summer.