There was a thug in the George Floyd case. He was sitting in the White House tweeting toxins as usual. They were so poisonous that, for the first time in Twitter history, Donald Trump was docked for violating Twitter’s Terms of Service.
Lesser mortals like you and me would have lost our Twitter accounts over far less, but I raise the point to convey how dangerous it is when a president acts like a thug. And what it takes before anyone will even take the most timid of steps to stop him.
By using a knee to choke hold a man who had already surrendered, the police officers responsible for Mr. Floyd’s death committed an extra-judicial killing.
Trump called American citizens “thugs” because they protested against the extra-judicial killing of George Floyd. This was after a week of scenes we’ve seen before when a police officer with a history of violence kills an unarmed black man.
In fact, when a police officer has eighteen complaints of violence against them, it means they shouldn’t be a police officer. We also have to end the practice of simply transferring a violent and/or racist police officer to another jurisdiction. If they are not suitable for one jurisdiction, they are not suitable for any.
In this case, Derek Chauvin, one of the four police officers on the scene, used his knee to choke-hold the life’s breath out of George Floyd. He did it after Floyd was subdued. Witnesses saw where this was going and urged Chauvin to stop. As if to demonstrate a final act of unconditional submission, Mr. Floyd called Chauvin, “sir” while begging for his life.
When this keeps happening, it should be understandable why these extra-judicial killings anger black people. More white people should be angry than there are. But there has to be more than just the usual platitudes about the obvious and inherent wrong. We’ll know we’re starting to get somewhere when the condemnation is expressed in policy and in deed.
I’m old enough to remember Apartheid in South Africa. It was a separate and unequal society, where the cup of white privilege runneth over, while people of color got less than society’s leftovers. It was a racial pyramid where white people were at the top, brown people were second class, and black people were at the bottom.
That applied to everything. Economic opportunity, food, education, healthcare, housing, the quality of the water if there was any, the quality of law enforcement and protections under the law.
Donald Trump and his ilk would love that system. The reality is, we aren’t really that different.
Sure, there are some people of color who become members of the economic and power elite. But that’s despite a system that is designed to limit their ability to fulfill the American dream. It’s not because, as some people claimed, Obama’s election proved racism is in the past.
No it isn’t. It woke up from a catnap the moment then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared war on Barack Obama’s presidency. We’re not talking your average partisan jockeying. McConnell was offended that America chose an African American who started his path to the presidency as a community organizer over John McCain, a white man who had more honor in his baby finger than the thug currently sitting in the White House has in his whole body.
Unlike before, the “partisan” attacks on Barack Obama’s policies became about race. Even during the campaign, the birther rumors were constant. They screamed for attention like Donald Trump had throughout Obama’s presidency. That’s despite sharing the birth certificate and multiple court rulings.
There’s even racism in the way we look at political protest. If you’re an armed white guy wanting to defend your “right” to spray a deadly virus in another person’s face, you’re a decent person, according to Donald Trump.
If you’re a black person protesting the latest extra-judicial killing, the “president” calls you a thug.
I could never defend it, and, to be honest, there’s a lot about American-style racism I don’t understand. This racism uses “subtle” terms, terms that could sound “innocent” to someone who spent most of their life in other countries. We saw that racism is not only about word choice, it’s about perceptions about whether racial characteristics in themselves define a person as good or bad.
I wish I knew how to translate to people who look more like me that differences are a good thing. We expand our knowledge base, we learn there is more than one way to think the same thought, more than one word to express the same meaning, and more than one way to get the same thing done.
We could gain so much from learning from each other’s differences while acknowledging how much we have in common.
I wish I knew how to say this in ways that would resonate to people who look like me but in whose world I feel like a stranger. I don’t know how to think in terms of equating the quality of a person with the amount of pigment in their skin. It’s so…. stupid, petty and ridiculous.
I do know we can’t go on like this. Each extra-judicial killing raises the temperature and emboldens the hardcore racist when it is defended by Trump’s glorification of violence against Americans who protest these crimes against humanity. Injustice occurs each time it takes a week to make an arrest for a crime that would have meant immediate arrest if the perpetrator was black; the delay is itself an injustice.
But we’ll know we’re getting somewhere when it doesn’t take a week of protesting before a white police officer is taken into custody and charged with manslaughter and 3rd degree murder for killing a subdued black man or woman.
And we’ll know we’re getting somewhere when there isn’t one set of characterizations for when mostly white people protest and a different set for when mostly black people protest.
We have miles to go before we don’t have to march against extra-judicial killings like George Floyd’s because they aren’t happening any more. We have miles to go before all parents can have the same talk with their children about how to handle encounters with police, miles to go before we all understand alike what benefits and grievances we have in common.
For my part, I’m going to learn to cut through the code and all the other thinking that impedes inter-racial understanding. And I’m going to learn from my brothers and sisters who live the reality of racism in America, and if they let me join the fight to end it with them, I’ll be honored to do so.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.