Reflections on America: Waiting for the George Floyd Verdict
The defense has rested after the dance. Impressive, this very familiar American dance around, and every now and then toward imperatives of justice. The defense and their defenders demand we suspend the evidence of things plainly seen. Or perhaps we see through the lens of those who do not perceive our lives as human. For people of color this is a familiar demand. Human beings tend to die when armed human beings, armed with power and privileged immunity, choke life from a George Floyd as he is…as we are so often… caught between hard places: an officer’s knee, concrete, and 155 years of criminalizing propaganda.
The defense is essentially that George Floyd does not quite fall under the category of human. In fact when he got a little drug in him, he becomes super-human, like King Kong. Again, a familiar dance. That choking him to death did not kill him. He died instantly after begging for his life, acknowledging his own murder, and calling for his dead mother as his eulogy. He had drugs in his system. He had a heart condition. While struggling to breathe he inhaled exhaust. He had COVID. He had high blood pressure. He had natural sudden death syndrome. He died of sadness.
None of this would make any sense regarding a person. But George Floyd had never been fully recognized by America has a person. He didn’t sing, dance, act or bounce a ball, which gain Black people provisional humanity.
This case is unique: the evidence so overwhelmingly obvious, even according to testimony of other police, that I presume Derrick Chauvin will be convicted…maybe even serve a stretch of time. Some will proclaim justice served but it won’t be because George Floyd is dead.
If my presumption proves naïve, my surprise will be tempered by history to fall far short of shock. My bar of expectation for justice in my country will simply continue its life-long descent. Smoke from burning cities will carry a familiar scent.
Either way, if anything good can emerge out of his law enforcement killing, it is a recognition that George Floyd et al are dead because they were not perceived as fully human. From their perspective, those particular cops, and systems that shaped them, were not detaining him. They were apprehending and dominating the black body of it. A human being knowingly or unknowingly passing a counterfeit $20 bill does not escalated toward summary execution. A human being gasping for life and pleading for his mother evokes compassion from other humans. But for these officers, and many other Americans, this black body was not a life to be preserved but a beast to be subdued.
Malcolm X said: “We declare our right on this earth...to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” These words are prescient today as when they were first uttered. George Floyd is not on trial. He was denied human rights to presumption of innocence, his day in court, and his life. America, once again, is on trial that far exceeds this case. A guilty verdict means nothing beyond acknowledging the brazen, stupid, arrogant nature of this murder yielded evidence far too noxious to be tossed aside.
In fact, given numerous instances of routine police harassment and lethal violence committed against people of color, my response to an anticipated guilty verdict is: so this is what it took? It took the agonizing spectacle of a 9:29 minute murder in slow motion, the smug self-satisfied demeanor of the murderer in uniform, the capture of this moment in the cell phone of a child, the amplification of the crimes’ visibility via activism and media, and constraints in charges filed so even a guilty verdict results in inadequate sentencing…this is what it took?
Malcolm was driven to speak the above words in opposition to the fundamental world view of our nation’s founding fathers. This is why one should be suspicious of so-called “originalists”. Equality, and recognition of the fundamental humanity of all men, women, “races”, genders, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes were not the original intent of these founding fathers (no mothers?), woven into systemic constitutional, governmental, legal, and socio-economic infrastructure of our nation from its inception. The lynching of George Floyd was fruit of this tree.
The pursuit of American ideals must be applied in a systemic manner that overthrows the intent of the men who wrote them. The universal humanity that the Creator has endowed with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or at least the preservation of life) must be the standard for every aspect of the evolving United States, lest government of the people, by the people, for the people perishes from the earth before it was ever fully born.
Speaking of standards, I hope we don’t fail to acknowledge not only the wickedness of George Floyd’s execution (and Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner, ……) but the utter stupidity, the gross incompetence, the pathetic absurdity of America’s self-disclosure and presentation to the world. What does this say to the world about our country? What must our competitor nations, including those we lecture about “human rights”, perceive of our nation when we provide them such juicy propaganda memes.
Raise the standards of policing! Raise hiring, training, and retention standards. Raise standards of community engagement and collaboration reflecting mutual interests of public safety. Raise standards of negotiating with human beings…every human being…with intelligence, professionalism, and an intent to do all possible and necessary to preserve lives instead of destroying them.
How about rewarding law enforcement officers for community engagements instead of petty legalized harassment? Partnering with high crime communities, who desire most and are often desperate for crime reduction? This really shouldn’t be that hard for a country that can put a helicopter on Mars.
In other words, how about we all demand policing for the people, by the people, of the people?