Something horrible happened in my old hometown, less than six blocks from the house where I grew up. A Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of another man until he caused the second man’s death from suffocation. Although onlookers told the officer to stop what was he was doing, he did not remove that knee until after many minutes had passed and it was too late. All the while, three fellow officers stood by. I will not display the photos, or videos, here. They make me ill. One can easily find them by typing the name George Floyd into any search engine.
A horrible scenario, and unfortunately not rare at all. The actors in these moments are always the same – the officer will be white, the victim will be black.
Angry citizens took to the streets of Minneapolis Wednesday night, burning and looting. That is ugly and criminal behavior, too. The one is not equivalent to the other, although they are certainly related.
This killing of a citizen by a police officer that we saw in the video should make all of us furious and afraid. The officer has been fired, and rightly so. He will be tried eventually, which might be of some comfort to the families of the victim, although the outcomes of such trials are always uncertain.
This was the behavior of a psychopath, a thug. A thug dressed up in a uniform and wearing a badge and a gun. He does not represent any of the brave and principled officers I have known.
No one is safe from such people when they use the power that society gives them in a perverted manner. While they tend to prey on minorities most often, no one is safe because they are without boundaries. And these days, these worse-than-I-ever-imagined-would-be-days, such persons are fed oxygen by the hateful speech that has emanated from P.Cluck and his supporters since the very beginning of our national nightmare in 2016.
Those of us who are white might think our privilege protects us, but that’s a false feeling of security.
I keep trotting this famous short piece out, which dates from the days of the horrors of Nazi Germany. It fits so well in so many instances.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.Martin Niemoller
If we don’t stand with the victims at these times, who will stand with us when our turn comes?
I am having such a deja vu experience this week, watching the rioting and burning on television. In the “long hot summer” of 1967, there were 159 race riots. It was such an intense time that President Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission to find out why this was happening and what there was to be done about it.
The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The report was a strong indictment of white America: “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.
Its results suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism and suggested that white America bore much of the responsibility for black rioting and rebellion. It called to create new jobs, construct new housing, and put a stop to de facto segregation in order to wipe out the destructive ghetto environment. In order to do so, the report recommended for government programs to provide needed services, to hire more diverse and sensitive police forces and, most notably, to invest billions in housing programs aimed at breaking up residential segregation.Wikipedia: Kerner Commission
We’re at a different place today. Today’s riots stem from the fear of being killed for the crime of being black. Killed either by police or by white vigilantes.
When black parents today have “the talk” with their kids, what advice can they possibly give? How can they tell their children ways to avoid something so arbitrary and capricious as the violent gaze and deeds of psychopathic whites?
Here’s Van Jones’ take as he provides some perspective and shares his frustrations.