Another month, another murder of a black person by white police officers. This time it was George Floyd. When will this injustice end? How many times do the American people have to be confronted with videos of heavily-armed police officers brutally killing restrained and unarmed black men, women, and children before we find our moral voice? Shot in the back. Strangled in a choke-hold. Killed by a knee on the neck. How many more?
Police killed more than 1000 people last year, disproportionately black people and predominantly black men. George Floyd’s murder is yet one more demonstration of the intersection of two deadly systemic problems: deeply ingrained racism, which teaches white people to see black people as less worthy of dignity, respect, and even life; and a wholly unaccountable criminal justice system which is resistant to reform, and unwilling to take the measures proven to reduce killings by police. These problems lead to intolerable inhumanity. They prop up a racist status quo in which people of color, particularly black people, are told every day that their lives do not matter to many police officers and to many white people. The statistics are undeniable: black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. They are more likely to be unarmed when they are killed. And officers are hardly ever held accountable for these killings, with only 1% of police who kill ever even being charged with a crime. Consequently, throughout this country police officers kill with virtual impunity, and communities of color bear the deadly cost of racism and unaccountability.
There are glimmers of hope. We welcome the fact that Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, was quickly fired, and has now been charged with murder. We now await and urge the charging of those who aided him in this crime, the three officers who stood by and failed to intervene while he killed a man on camera. Until police are held to the same criminal standard as all citizens – police are citizens, after all – there is no hope for justice for victims of police brutality. We further call for all police departments to implement the measures we know to reduce police violence. All police departments should require officers to: use all other reasonable measures to maintain the peace before using force, and especially deadly force; they should require the reporting of all uses of force; they should ban chokeholds and strangleholds; they should require de-escalation; they should require a warning before an officer shoots their firearm. It is shocking and sad that only a minute fraction of all the USA’s police departments have all these life-saving measures in place.
It is past time for a reckoning. People of conscience everywhere must reckon with our country’s history of racism, and recognize that a racist ideology was built into the very founding of this nation, and infects our thinking to this day. We must reckon with our broken criminal justice system, which prioritizes an illusion of safety conjured by the presence of heavily-armed police over the reality of justice, which only humane community-based solutions can provide.
We must reckon with our own complicity in a system which has prioritized white lives over black lives for centuries, and take to the streets, engage in the political process and, when necessary, protest for change. In the coming days we will see communities speak out in anger and even in rage. We may be scared and affronted by the ways in which oppressed communities express frustration with their oppression. Yet now is not the time to wag fingers: now is the time for action, to mobilize ourselves and our communities to end this deadly intersection of injustices in which we are all implicated, for the dignity of all.
After 4 or 5 hours of struggle I abandoned my Memorial Day blog post. In the end the topic was too big and the space too small for my capacities. I was going for a unifying statement, one that tapped into the grieving over painful losses and the yearning for positive connection. But the words wouldn...