George Floyd is dead, having suffered fatal injury while being taken into custody by police in Minneapolis. Law enforcement responded to a call about counterfeit money being passed, and according to the police report he responded violently to their inquiries. He was subdued and handcuffed. During the incident, his restraints included keeping a knee against his neck, which is an accepted procedure according to the police guidelines in Minnesota.
He repeatedly warned the officers about having difficulty breathing while the knee was on his neck. By the time he was handcuffed the difficulties had worsened, and he passed away while medical attention was being sought.
His death has sparked protests, reminding people of Eric Garner’s death in New York City. In Garner’s case, he resisted police attempts to confiscate his cigarettes when he was caught bypassing city taxes by selling them singly; the police had been called because of an altercation which he had already broken up for them. He was subsequently choked, and died.
The Floyd death comes on the heels of a video of a false allegation of black-on-white threats made by a woman who was improperly walking her dog without a leash in New York City and was politely confronted by a bird watcher, and an incident in Georgia where a District Attorney may have kept police from arresting men involved in killing a black jogger who had ventured onto a construction site and looked around.
The officers involved in the death of Floyd have all been fired. There are calls for charges and arrests.
That’s it. That’s the story.
Another side of the story is this: unlike what happened in the Georgia and New York incidents, we don’t yet know key information about this case. We do not yet know the extent to which he resisted. We don’t know if Floyd was, in fact, passing counterfeit money, or if he was, if there was probable cause to believe that he was doing so knowingly. We don’t know if the officer with the knee on his throat has a history of excessive violence, which would suggest more pressure might have been applied than necessary. We simply don’t know, and making assumptions is a recipe for disaster. Every conflict is different, and just as there are places where racists will take advantage of the protection law enforcement grants them to exert control over a population, there are other places where people will use false allegations of racism for personal gain. Black people and white people alike are neither absolute saints nor sinners in the aggregate.
And the story need not only have two sides.
During the 2016 election, Russian agents used actual incidents of black-on-white conflict to amplify discord within the United States, fomenting distrust and hatred. Just this last weekend, my wife chronicled some of their efforts in her weekly Propaganda Watch pieces. Their efforts were incredibly successful, culminating in a sniper attack on Dallas police officers during a protest against violence against blacks.
It is to be expected that similar tactics are being used today. The highest levels of law enforcement have warned that foreign attacks continue and are likely to target the election; despite those warnings the Republican Senate has blocked efforts to prevent outside interference.
The lies of the 2016 election which culminated in the deaths of five Dallas officers and the wounding of nine others were subtle ones. They ferreted out rare events from all over the country, packaged them together, and made them seem like they were representative of systematic abuses. It was, and is, the same technique used to demonize illegal immigrants as violent criminals.
They are damnable falsehoods, but it is a powerful technique. We should have some measure of governmental protection from it, but we do not and that is by design. As we are unable to rely on the Republicans to provide such safeguards, we are left to address things ourselves. We need to refuse to lump incidents together without a valid connection. We need to demand all of the information possible about any incident. We need to remain fully open to the possibility of abuse while not making any assumptions toward it, in either direction. We need to be willing to shift from defending the police or an alleged perpetrator to condemning them if exculpatory evidence is revealed. And we need to pressure Congress to take action against foreign interference in our elections.
Many of us swore that we would back the blue, following the Dallas murders. This is how we do so: by demanding the truth, assuming the best of them until being shown otherwise, rejecting racism, and standing against Putin. It’s also how we keep a lid on improper assumptions of widespread racism. Just as we should be willing to wear a mask to protect ourselves and our neighbors, we should be willing to look at the many cases of white-on-black, black-on-white, and various other skin color-on-skin color kindness which happen in this country every hour of every day.
As adults, we have to stand against inappropriate division and thoughtless racism alike. Other options are easy, but they hasten our national destruction.