Friday, July 17, 2020

Thoughts on the Brutal Killing of George Floyd

The brutality of George Floyd's death is astounding. George's pleas for mercy were ignored after what appears to be a peaceful arrest of an unarmed black man. — I realize that the vast majority of policemen and women in America are the good guys, that they have an extremely difficult job putting their lives on the line everyday to keep the peace — that having been said, Mr. Floyd appears from all views of his killing to have been cooperating with police after being arrested for a petty non-violent crime. Even if George Floyd had been difficult or had been resisting police without threatening the lives of the police or others, that could not justify his treatment or excuse his death.

For many black Americans who live precariously between the hardened criminals in their neighborhoods and the suspicion that falls on them because they fit the description of such criminals, they must endure regular suspicion from police and sometimes disdainful, degrading, and/or aggressive policing. The calloused killings of unarmed black men that have been highlighted in the news over then last several years have cut deep and have critically endanger the fragile relationship that already exists between police and minority communities. Thus, we have wide spread protests after each questionable or unjustified killing and unfortunately rioting often accompanies these moments of outrage. Of course rioting in response to criminal acts and police brutality is an opportunistic crime and just adds violence to violence, rioting is criminal and riots are not protests, but I lived near Baltimore during the 2016 protests in response to the death of Freddy Grey and I know first hand that the peaceful protest were widespread but barely made the evening news because the destruction of riots makes for better news. Often people like me, who live far from these urban centers in safe neighborhoods, those like myself who have never been wrongfully harassed by the police, who hasn’t been wrongfully accused or had suspicion fall on me because of the way I look, struggle to fully appreciate the realities minorities face in very different circumstances, with very different daily experiences.

Amy Swearer of the Heritage Foundation struck the right tone this morning when she wrote, "Sometimes, an officer’s actions are so grotesque, cruel, or mind-boggling that the benefit of the doubt no longer can be extended." We have all seen in the video of Floyd’s death that it can’t be explained by circumstance, that we needn't wait for more details because "no additional information ever could justify what the public has witnessed." From what we have seen, what could possibly make it necessary or in any way justified for this policeman to hold George Floyd to the ground, knee to neck, in this extreme way and disregard his pleas for mercy, OR for his fellow servicemen to look on as it is being done, not just look on, but provide cover in front of a pleading crowd and allow this to continue for 5 minutes. It’s sickening to watch.

I am happy to see that there will be a thorough investigation and that the local authorities have requested an FBI investigation, as I would expect in any such case. Unjustified killings of civilians by police gives rise to violent riots and retribution killings of innocent police. BOTH are wrong and both MUST STOP!! The problem is that justice in those rare cases of wrongful police killings won't solve the undercurrent that sustains the fragile tension between police and minority communities. We must see a change that balances safety and justice for all. I've been thinking about our American founders who were so concerned about building a justice system that would be abusive, as the English system had proven to be, that they created a system that would rather 10 criminals go free than for one innocent man to be convicted of a crime he didn't commit or suffer cruel and unusual punishments. It seems that we need more commitment to that principle today. For the civil society to endure, for liberty to persist, EVERYONE must be assured of JUST and EQUAL treatment under the law! This is a fundamental principle of American liberty. We must protect the sacred liberty of LIFE fist and foremost.

I realize these examples of police brutality are statistically small, and that there are different ways of analyzing the statistics. Some experts say the data suggests that white cops are more likely to shoot black people because of racial bias, while other studies have shown that the race of a police officer did not predict the race of the citizen shot. In other words, some have concluded that black officers were just as likely to shoot black citizens as white officers were and that is evidence that these shootings are not racially motivated. I see problems in the way these raw data is analyzed on both sides of the argument, in fact, I hate that we have sides and that we have to argue about it at all. Regardless of the statistics the experiences that people have in real life, on the street of our cities -- the experiences of both citizen and police in these highly charged environments -- mean something beyond what the statistics can tell us. The wrongful deaths that occur during policing may be small statistically but they are not small in their impact on ALL of us. Statistics of police brutality and killings don't tell the whole picture of how policing and race interact with each other.

Does the Media Message Help or Hurt?

I think there is a valid concern that the media has a singular narrative and that the singular story is dangerous because it results in more divisiveness rather than giving communities a chance to work toward mutual understanding. The media coverage has at times jumped the gun too fast to try the most extreme cases of brutality in the court of public opinion before enough of the facts are known. When they do this they magnify extreme cases of police brutality outside of tempered context and facts. When every story is a charge of systematic racism even when the facts don't back up the narrative, the coverage lacks nuance and context that would build bridges rather than leave our cities in ashes. Despite universal condemnation for the brutality of George Floyd's death by local leaders in Minnesota and across the country, the media will frame the act of these policemen as proof of systemic racism. Is it a fact that there is systematic racism in the Minneapolis police department? I don't know, but will the media try to find out before they brand the story that way? I'm pretty sure the due diligence in journalism will be absent and so the cycle will continue.

The pernicious cycle of high crime rates in poor minority communities, suspicion falling on people merely because they "fit the description," mistrust and mistreatment that goes both ways in the fragile relationship between police and the community, and the salacious way the media fuels the divisions for a singular narrative are road blocks to progress. Instead of building bridges by addresses the underlying causes, what we get is brutal backlash riots against property and innocent life and police being executed in revenge. Heaven forbid that more of the same happens in reaction to Floyd's death. 

Please don't misunderstand me. I think it would be equally wrong for the media to ignore or downplay cases of police brutality. It’s extremely important to realize that bad cops undermine public confidence and well being and make it MUCH harder for the majority of police who do their jobs honorably to continue to serve and protect. I realize the difficult task of covering this story in a way that communicates both the hard realities of police brutality in predominately urban minority communities and finding a balance that doesn't throw all police under the bus. The sometimes disdainful, degrading, and brutal actions of some police has a profoundly negative impact on people in these communities and those who are sworn to serve and protect them. It is precisely because ALL lives matter — BLACK & BLUE lives matter — that we MUST change the conditions that lead to these unjust killings.

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