To all my white friends: if this isn’t enough to make you say something, what is? A black person was murdered over 9 grueling minutes. It was caught on clear, color video. The killer has been charged, while his three accomplices are still at large. We know their names. Why aren’t they in jail? If you or I did the exact same thing, where would we be?
If you see this post and refuse to say something, have yet to post on social media about how wrong this is, you are not an American. You are a white supremacist. Your white silence, your beautiful, white boat you refuse to rock, is worth more to you than the life of George Floyd.
Nobody thought George Floyd had a gun. Nobody saw him running away and in a moment, put six bullets in his back. George Floyd had the life sucked out of him across nine fucking minutes. (8m46s to be precise.) An entire episode of SpongeBob is 11 minutes. If white people had this problem, it wouldn’t be a problem. We run this country with all the grace of a plantation owner, with all the justice of a 1950 Alabama jury, with all the accountability of a Medieval king.
You might think it’s not a problem anymore because the killer of George Floyd has been charged and is “in custody”, which sounds like he’s not in jail where he belongs. It took 3.5 days of protests, what you might call rioting, to get cops to charge ONE blatant killer. His three accomplices are free. They stood there and watched it happen. And because they’re cops, none of the bystanders, of which there were plenty, could do anything but watch helplessly as four people choked George Floyd to death.
Have you EVER heard of a killer being free for three days? Haven’t you ever heard of “throw the book at them”? If George’s killers weren’t cops, they’d EACH be facing first degree murder charges. Prosecutors ALWAYS charge above what they think they can convict on. They negotiate down from there as they gather more facts and witnesses, usually hoping to get a plea deal. (Roughly 95% of charges in the US end in a plea bargain.) If you look at arrests at all, you know that people get a ton of charges at the start. Usually the cases I see end in something like “pleaded to a lesser charge, other 5 charges dropped”. If it’s good enough for petty drug dealers, it’s good enough for the cops.
But it’s bigger than George Floyd. The rage I feel, the rage that people of color feel and that I will never know, is that it’s never going to stop. It’s been seven years since Black Lives Matter began in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Five years since Walter Scott was shot five times in the back while running away. Twenty eight years since the four officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted. Fifty six years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s been one hundred and fifty five years since black people all across the country were supposedly freed. I’m tired of waiting for that freedom - I can’t imagine how they feel.
The protesters have all kinds of demands, explicit and implicit. No two protesters want the same thing. But big picture, it’s clear that they want radical police reforms, to put it lightly. The protection you feel from police is utterly foreign to people of color. It’s time to take a hard look at why that is and transform policing so radically it will be unrecognizable from what it is today.
Not at all to put myself in the shoes of an African-American, it’s not at all comparable. But just to offer my perspective. I was at a protest today in Pittsburgh, PA. And what I saw there was an overwhelming majority of peaceful protesters being met with unreasonable, unjustified, overbearing force from the police I had been taught were my protectors. Police repeatedly fired tear gas into a crowd whose only crime seemed to be blocking a few streets in downtown. Tear gas is illegal to use in warfare, yet cops use it on the people who pay their salaries. It costs $17 a canister. Meanwhile, evidence of looting was apparent far away from the peaceful protest. Hot tip: you can’t loot when both hands are up and you’re shouting “no justice, no peace”. It seems Pittsburgh police (or whoever was there) cared more about silencing dissent than protecting property, let alone protecting people. I never once saw a uniformed cop treating the injuries of a protester, but I saw brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings of all kinds stopping to make sure their fellow humans were okay. I saw people giving away water, food, and masks for free. I even saw some people picking up knocked-down trash cans, although I think most people didn’t agree with them. It’s not clear to me why a plainclothes cop was posted in front of a precinct with a smashed window when he could’ve been treating tear gas injuries 300 feet away. Later, two additional officers posted up alongside him. The message is clear - our glass matters more than your lungs.
As I left, I saw the police ratcheting up the force. Four or five police officers were mounted on horses. This was odd to me - I’m just a regular person, but I knew how dangerous horses are at protests. Just yesterday, a woman in Houston came within two feet of having her skull trampled by a police officer’s horse. She was all the way under the horse’s body; it’s a miracle she’s still alive at all. To my knowledge, Houston police haven’t even apologized. It’s their way or the highway, the boot or the grave. One simple, obvious demand might be that police stop using horses. They’re just for intimidation, and their safety cannot be guaranteed. If I drove a recalled vehicle I knew would uncontrollably accelerate one out of every thousand times, and killed someone while driving it, I would be in jail and facing some kind of manslaughter charge.
Moderates tell us that most cops are good, and there are only a few bad apples that make cops look bad. This was a really easy theory to prove this week, and the results are profoundly disappointing. If the killers of George Floyd were outliers, every cop in the country should be on strike until they are in jail, or perhaps even convicted. Cops are supposed to be just like you and me. I’m sick. Add in the extra rage of someone in my same profession fucking murdering someone in cold blood, and I could barely walk. Most (all?) cops are not on strike right now, so most cops are bad apples. Most cops are showing up to work these protests to stifle dissent and gas children. And if someone gets killed by a cop at one of these protests - how long will it take for the cop to be arrested? Will they be arrested? How likely is it that they are convicted? It’s a circle of despair that never ends.
On the topic of strikes - corporate (white) America has a lot of power here, and it hasn’t used it. You’re mad about Target? You’re mad about AutoZone? Both of those companies could have shut down all business with the entire state of Minnesota until the killers were brought to justice. This is the kind of collective action that happened when North Carolina decided to discriminate against transgender people. That was a great cause, and so is this one. Corporations, as well as state and local governments, could announce that all business, including travel, to Minnesota is suspended until justice is brought. Why is it normal when a black man is strangled to death, but unthinkable that Target wouldn’t want to do business with a state that protects racist killers?
This was my first protest but it was not my last. The Pittsburgh police had a chance to de-escalate the situation and earn respect from me. Instead, they went the opposite way, and showed their true colors. All across the country people are facing what I faced or worse. CNN journalists were arrested and NBC reporters were shot with pepper bullets in cold blood in an obvious show of power. An old man using a cane was knocked down by police for no reason. Police launched tear gas at peaceful protesters in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The trend seems to be to tear gas peaceful protesters to rile them up, then call them violent and use that to violently shut down the whole thing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care if some people want to block a street. George Floyd is dead. Because we failed to change our policies enough after Walter Scott and Rodney King, George Floyd is dead, and he won’t be the last unarmed black person killed by police. Not without our help.