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From Rodney King to George Floyd

The encounter involving Minneapolis police and George Floyd, which tragically resulted in Floyd’s death, was only a few days ago, and the news cycle has mushroomed into incessant coverage and images of not only peaceful protests, but also violent protests that have morphed into deadly riots.  After I shared a video of one such peaceful protest which rightly had its focus on the death of George Floyd with a young friend, she noted that it was the “First Amendment in action.” Of course it was.  Unfortunately, in more than just a few cases across the country, the peaceful protests have been co-opted by bad actors who appear to be nothing more than common anarchists.  Peaceful protesters agitating for their cause do not loot the businesses of innocent bystanders and kill law enforcement officers…rioters and anarchists sometime do just that.

After two young black college students were tased by Atlanta police officers (who are also African American) when they were found to be out after curfew, they appeared the next day, with their parents (and also with their attorneys) and described their experience using words like “war” and “revolution” while calling for change.

So what has to change?  Were the law enforcement encounters with Rodney King and George Floyd and all those in between, which resulted in injury or death to both black people and white people the result of racism? It is difficult to characterize such encounters between officers and citizens of the same race as being the result of racism, yet they still occur. Were those unfortunate encounters the result of bad policing or police procedures? Perhaps. Former President Obama called for a review of police policies and tactics in a town hall on Wednesday. Many police agencies will undoubtedly conduct such a review.

Many believe that racism is systemic, baked into the fabric of our nation, which inevitably seeps into businesses, institutions and government agencies and law enforcement.  They point to statistics published in a database compiled and published by the Washington Post and updated through June 4, 2020 that counted 1,269 black people who were shot and killed by police since January 1, 2015.  Of that number, only 122 were not armed.  However, according to the same database, 2,426 white persons were shot and killed by police, 145 of whom were not armed. The critics point to the fact that blacks are shot by police at a disproportionally higher rate than their percentage of the population as evidence of systemic racism in this country, especially in the law enforcement community.

On Tuesday’s episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Brit Hume rejected the notion that systemic racism still exists in this country.  He asked, “Has any country tried harder to right the racial wrongs than this country has?” Hume noted that when the video went viral, the nation was united in its revulsion over the death of George Floyd. He blames the disunity that has surfaced on the looters and the rioters who are rampaging through our cities on the coattails of the peaceful protesters.

So what has to change?  I suggest that before any institutional or other wrong can be addressed and changed, we must first change our hearts.  Evil came into the world shortly after its beginning, and the world has been infected by evil ever since. Evil manifests itself in many ways, and we have all watched it play out on screens and devices for the last week as it has given rise to chaos which threatens to further divide our nation already reeling from the COVID pandemic.

Amid the unrest that erupted in Los Angeles and elsewhere after the Rodney King incident, Mr. King appeared before news cameras and famously pleaded “can’t we all just get along.”  29 years later, after watching days of protests turned riots in some cases, it appears that some elements in society have moved on from George Floyd to focusing on their own radical causes and just do not want to get along.  When people decide to come together rather than to tear apart, to restore relationships rather than to destroy them, and to seek common ground rather than to stake out turf on the fringes, that is when change, for the common good, will be realized. The calls for change by the peaceful protests have been drowned out by the radicals fomenting anger and division. Don’t listen to them. Listen to Rodney King. “Can’t we all just get along?” That, in itself, will be change for the good.

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