The reaction to Floyd’s death is different than the protests of other racially motivated police killings. Perhaps it’s the pandemic, perhaps it’s the mass unemployment (almost 25 percent of the workforce), perhaps it is because it happened amid the stay-at-home orders we’ve been enduring, but it just feels different.
As we grapple with this reality, let’s not confuse the rioting and looting of opportunists and criminals with the message of the protestors. No sane person condones rioting and the dangers it presents to law enforcement and small businesses, but we surely by now must realize how dangerous it would be to dismiss the root causes of these protests.
The truth is that innocent people are being murdered merely because of their color. The killing of George Floyd, gruesome as it was to watch, is just the latest. As a white man of the South I’ve been outraged at the treatment I’ve seen in too many videos and of the backlash against those who call out the guilty. According to the New York Times, about 1,000 people a year — of all races — have been killed by police since records have been kept.
I know the Trump supporters will retaliate, but you gotta call it like you see it, and the president has done nothing except throw fuel on the fire. Since Charlottesville in 2017 when he called white supremacists “fine people,” and even before when he referred to “shithole” countries in Africa, the president has done little to assuage the belief among many that he does not care about people of color, or that he is in fact racist.
Since Floyd’s killing, no national address, no call for better relations between different groups, no soothing words for a nation broiling with rage. That’s this president. A Mahatma Ghandi quote I read somewhere in the last few days seems appropriate: “A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”
A few days ago I almost took the bait when an old college friend wondered on his Facebook page why people take to the streets when they witness wrongs instead of talking to each other about the problem. Think Boston Tea Party, think abolition, think women’s suffrage, think Anti-Saloon League marches for prohibition, think Bonus Army veterans marching on D.C. in1932, think civil rights and the Vietnam War, think of the recent Women’s Marches. Our citizens have taken to the streets time and again to steer public opinion, help right wrongs and fight injustice. It’s what we do.
Like so many other problems plaguing this racially diverse country that breeds savagely independent, free-thinking and idealistic citizens, this issue of violence against people of color will cause much more pain before it’s solved. No easy answers, no quick fix. That’s the sobering reality.
I was having a beer on Saturday afternoon with an African American man who lives in Buncombe County, a recent acquaintance. He talked about providing a home for his young nephew. “A great kid,” he said of him, but in almost the same breath he verbalized heartfelt fears for the young man as this time of violence and outrage convulses the country.
As a white man, I had no words of reassurance. Innocent people of color are dying unjustly, and it just shouldn’t be.