George Floyd and the Blame Game
You could hear the collective sigh of relief yesterday as millions of Americans, white, Black, Native and all those “others” exhaled after the Derek Chauvin verdicts were read in court. George Floyd’s murder in front of Cup Foods in Minneapolis, the firing of cops, the arrests, the trial and the conviction of the kingpin have all marked a significant moment in history.
Let’s step back in time. The 1820 US Census showed there were 233,524 free Blacks in America along with 1,538,038 slaves. The total population of the United States that year was 9,638,453 people. If you use the wretched “one Black person is three fifths of a white person” equation, those 1.5 million slaves counted as 922,823 humans. What an immoral reckoning! Leaving out that ridiculous statistical fraud, our country was 18.3% Black in 1820.
The next US Census (2020) will show how much we’ve changed if they ever get in finished properly. But according to the 2010 Census, the African American population was about 13.5%, but that number is deceiving as to the impact of the black vote in certain states. Even in 2010, the Black population in Louisiana was 33 percent, Georgia – 32 percent, Maryland – 31 percent, South Carolina – 29 percent and Alabama – 27 percent. The largest percentage was found in Washington, D.C., affectionally called “Chocolate City” back in the 1970s, with African Americans making up 52 percent of the population.
The belief that freed southern slaves took off to live in northern states of the US is a myth. On top of that, if the Republican party doesn’t figure out how to serve the Black community in the south, the right-wing stronghold will dissolve. That being said, what are we doing about another vital statistic?
According to Statista.com, 212 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2021. Included in that grim count are 50 white people, 30 Black, 20 Hispanic and, weirdly, 112 with no reference to their race. Yes, this is not evidence of police targeting African Americans, but that is not the point, it’s the 212 deadly force incidents that matter most. Why are cops killing our citizens so often? We have no counts of how many cops tased people or hit them over the head with a stick, but the glaring fact that came out of the Derek Chauvin trial is an abysmal lack of policing standards in America. The lawyers for the accused cop said that he was following his training, while members of his own police force said he wasn’t using the proper techniques. Maybe it’s time we codify these practices and present a standard for EVERY police department in America. Is that too much to ask? We should start by making the suffocation of a suspect by a cop a felony crime.
Too many people argue for the cops, the guys with the guns and the power to end another human being’s life in a split second. Yes, they surely deserve our support and we do pay them with our tax dollars, but they shouldn’t have licenses to kill. We need them and they shouldn’t be defunded, but that money ought to go to better training along with a set of guidelines for the entire country. A white man with a Confederate flag appears to many cops to be much less confrontational than a Black man holding a cell phone. Bias is everywhere, and we must also address how a Black cop faces a white guy wearing a Nazi T-shirt. Prejudice must be trained out of every law enforcement officer.
Sure, accidents will happen, like using a gun that you thought was a taser, but what led to that kind of force being used in the first place? The answer is FEAR. I may be on the wrong side of history with this question, but here goes — why are white cops so afraid of Black men? They will shoot them faster than they would an insane white guy. Walk through some facts with me here.
On August 25, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a man named Kyle Rittenhouse, then a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, traveled across state lines to shot and kill. He allegedly killed two people and wounded another during multiple confrontations at two locations. He was armed with an AR-15 style rifle and, according to witnesses, one of those he shot had a handgun. Police saw him walking up a street, armed and marching straight toward them. They offered him water and they talked. This man had just killed two people and the cops allowed him to keep his gun and simply walk away. If he was someone they saw as a threat, or was Black, they would have detained him, or worse, killed him. Although he was armed and in tactical gear he was white, and they didn’t see him as a threat even though he could have shot them.
That is a great example of either systemic racism or cops being so biased that they saw a vigilantly as a friend and not a foe. Their job is to protect all citizens from harm. People, we are at a turning point. We do not have a grand victory over evil with one conviction of one bad cop. We have a lousy system of enforcement training and we need to fix that.
Rosa Brooks, author of the book Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City, said on TV the other day that typical police training for firearms is about two weeks in a classroom followed by a couple of days on the shooting range. I believe the machismo of most male law enforcement leaders can be summed up this way, “Of course they know how to shoot, they want to be cops.” That is nonsensical and wrong. The use of a gun by a cop should always be the last resort to resolve conflict, but as we saw in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, guns are pulled out and raised at a suspect’s head immediately, especially when that suspect is Black.
According to the Army Times website, “Body camera footage shows 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, dressed in uniform with his hands held in the air outside the driver’s side window as he told the armed officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.” The officer said, “Yeah, you should be!” We’ve all seen the video of Nazario being drenched with pepper spray as he sat in his car. By the way, he’s suing the police for $1 million claiming his rights were violated. Too bad there isn’t a video. Oh wait, there is.
The blame game will continue. It’s how police, their unions, their management and governments avoid large payouts to victims of police malfeasance. If putting your knee on a man’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds is standard procedure, then we have given police judgement by fiat of the badge and the power of extrajudicial executions. That’s not a place where I want to live.
Here, perhaps, is some good news. After the guilty verdict in George Floyd’s death, the Associated Press reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to announce the Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis. Hopefully, this will be is a first step in making stronger laws for the police to follow and for us to rely on. If we don’t act on this, we are the guilty party. Shame on us if we think one trial fixed everything.
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Gold, God, Guns & Goofballs: If you only read one chapter of this book, try “Take a Knee for America” and think about our never-ending conflicts between minorities and the police. I’m not asking you to take a stand but having a deep and honest conversation about why some people think the way they do would be productive. This is a book for the moment which seeks to start a conversation about peace. And if you are worried about social media, you really should check out the chapter called “Social Media Menace.”