On Monday, May 25th George Floyd – an unarmed black man – was unjustly killed in a brutal example of excessive police force. Mr. Floyd died from asphyxiation after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes – the last two of which Mr. Floyd appeared to be unconscious - while he was on the ground, face down, and handcuffed. The suspected crime: trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase a sandwich. During the ordeal, two other officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, also subdued Mr. Floyd. A fourth officer, Tou Thao, secured the perimeter of the scene. Mr. Floyd was not resisting arrest. During the disturbing ordeal, he cried out that he “could not breathe.” George Floyd died at the scene. He was 46 years old.
As of this post, Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Officers Thao, Lane and Kueng were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. All four men are currently in custody.
Before We Opine
George Floyd’s unjust death ignited worldwide protests denouncing police brutality, racism, and other related injustices that blacks in America have suffered and continue to experience. In a short, powerful timeframe, America has reached another important inflection point regarding civil rights.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve witnessed seemingly every major corporation in America, celebrities, athletes, politicians, perhaps even your friends on Facebook etc., dare we say wannabees, who have never paid much attention to social justice, post statements of solidarity and support for black Americans and the nationwide protests (of course, some companies and many people have been active before the fact and consistently so, we are not referring to them). Indeed, we found some “protestors,” particularly a cohort of white ones, were simply doing what is trendy or cool in the moment. They might hold up a sign that reads “black lives matter” and snap a selfie for Instagram, but have little if any understanding, nor curiosity, of what many black people are tired of and frustrated about.
The first and most important part of our due diligence for this week’s post was to make it our objective to engage, listen, and learn. To better understand and appreciate beyond the obvious reason(s), why so many black Americans feel disenfranchised.
Of course, not every black American is the same, has the same experiences, or thinks similarly - (assuming as much would be biased in its own right). That said, an overriding theme that many (legitimate) protestors on the street are trying to convey is: Black Americans are exhausted. Worn-out from the pain, frustration and sense of hopelessness they feel from being disproportionately profiled by law enforcement, subjected to a criminal justice system that is not colorblind, which is unto itself a catalyst that perpetuates a negative feedback loop: arrested, jailed, convicted, sentenced, compromised employment opportunities, lower median income, gutted communities, “food desserts” but liquor stores abound, lack of access to healthcare, lower revenue streams from property tax to support education, etc., that while not impossible, is exceedingly difficult to break.
It’s A Beautiful Day…In Some Neighborhoods
Unfortunately, the experience of George Floyd was not an isolated incident. While racism in America is in a (very) slow non-linear decline, it clearly exists, particularly as it relates to policing. George Floyd’s saga happened to have been videotaped. But we must bear in mind that for every George Floyd, there are thousands of other victims of police misconduct of whom we will never be aware.
Mandatory body cameras, dash cams, smartphones and other technology serve as a deterrent for unscrupulous police officers. Before the advent of the aforementioned technology, we cannot begin to fathom how many times a black man was stopped by a dishonest policeman, on a rural road, in the middle of nowhere, with no witnesses, unjustly detained, forced to make self-incriminating statements without an attorney present, beaten up, or like in the case of George Floyd, killed.
At TQC we support peaceful protests and encourage people to exercise their constitutional right to organize, speak up, fight for equal justice under the law, and to initiate discussions with the objective of facilitating positive change.
The overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful, positive, with a thematic purpose. But even if a protestor is holding up a sign that reads ACAB, a new acronym for “all cops are bastards,” as long as they are doing so peacefully, while one may disagree with their message – their right to deliver that, and any other message, should be protected.
We reject criminals that have hijacked the senseless murder (and subsequent peaceful protests) of a black man as an excuse to break into and loot businesses, deface and / or destroy private property, and commit other crimes. For the individuals participating in those activities, this important moment in American history is not about George Floyd or any other victim of police brutality or institutionalized racism, it is about nobody but themselves. Not only is this abhorrent behavior selfish (and illegal), more importantly, it provides racists with ammunition to say "see, I told you so, etc."
We disagree with New York Times Magazine and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones argument that destruction of property is not violence. We would be remiss not to point out that Ms. Jones also said, “violence is when an agent of the state kneels on a man’s neck until all of the life is leached out of his body.” Here she is spot on. The person(s) who committed this atrocity will be held accountable. But when she argued that “destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence”…and that…"any reasonable person would discourage the destruction of other people's property but these are not reasonable times,” we shook our heads in disagreement.
The unjust murder of an innocent black man is, and will always be, materially worse than any damage done to physical assets, including those assets that hard working men and women, many blacks among them, worked their rear ends off to build and grow, in order to give their kids a better life.
We agree with Ms. Jones, we are not in reasonable times. Because we are not in reasonable times is exactly why people should make it a priority to be empathetic, understanding, and act with civility. People have every right to be angry. People should protest and exercise their constitutional right to speak up and stand for what they believe in. People should engage and expand upon conversations that can change peoples’ attitudes and long standing bias’. Destroying physical assets – that accomplishes nothing to effect positive change and often sets back communities that disproportionately benefit from flourishing enterprises.
In a powerful, gripping speech, rapper and activist Michael Render aka “Killa Mike” said this to the residents of Atlanta and our nation, "It is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house. So that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization, and now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize…It is time to beat up prosecutors you don't like at the voting booth…It is our responsibility to make this better right now.”
New York City Deputy Inspector Vincent Tavalaro took a knee as a sign of solidarity with protestors. In Camden, N.J, the police chief joined protestors in their march. In Louisville, KY, protestors linked arms to protect a vulnerable police officer from potentially being assaulted. Demonstrators in New York stopped a Target from being looted. Killa Mike, Inspector Tavalaro, the courageous protestors, are real leaders, effective change agents fighting to make things more equitable in this country and doing so in a peaceful way.
President Donald Trump has abdicated his responsibility to provide leadership during these trying times. Making moronic statements like “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” which has decidedly racist origin, does little but to drive a bigger wedge between the police and the communities they serve, and the different ethnic groups who populate those communities.
We reject Mr. Trump’s decision to clear peaceful protestors from an area surrounding the White House so he could visit a historic church nearby that had been vandalized the night prior. Peaceful protestors must be allowed to assemble and convey their message. Furthermore, Trump should have taken that moment to be a leader and engage civilly with demonstrators, rather than pelt them with tear gas and rubber bullets so he could visit a church for nothing more than a photo opp. Worth noting, Trump did not say a prayer while there, he did not make a speech, nor did he invite a peaceful protester to join him. Also, the idea of Donald Trump taking a visit to any church seriously smells like “pew” to us.
The Police & The Data
Most police officers protect and serve their communities professionally, ethically, and whenever possible, peacefully. Unfortunately, and particularly as it relates to policing, a few rotten apples can spoil the perception of an entire department. Said Robert L. Woodson, Sr. founder and president of the Woodson Center, “If racial profiling is wrong, it is equally wrong to stereotype all police based on the actions of a few.”
It is important to bear in mind that America can be fiendishly difficult and dangerous to police. Not only is the United States the most violent rich country in the world, it is also the most heavily armed. There are ~700,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. They arrest ~10,000,000 people per year. Most of these arrests are – excuse the pun – warranted; a few are not. Approximately 1,000 civilians are shot and killed by police each year. And each year, ~100 police officers are shot and killed in the line of duty. Regrettably, lethal force can be an officer’s only viable option. However, with better training, certain instances that result in a civilian death, could be mitigated.
Though the data is patchy, most studies indicate that while people of all races experience mistreatment by the police, blacks are ~2.5x as likely to be killed by a police officer than whites. Compounded by the fact that blacks represent only ~12% of the population, it appears there is a clear bias. The counter argument is that blacks represent a minority of the population, but account for a disproportionate number of violent crimes committed in America. Hence it would be abnormal for a police officer to not have a preconceived negative bias of a black suspect.
Our view is that we entrust law enforcement officers with our safety and wellbeing. They carry firearms with live ammunition. Hence, they must be held to a higher standard than the common citizen. Despite their own prejudices they must be colorblind the moment they put on their uniform. With proper training, community engagement, hard work and education, we think this can become a reality.
It is vital that in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, that police do not pull back and become “afraid” to do their jobs (properly). Because when this happens, often predominantly black communities become less safe.
Progress is often painfully slow and rarely linear. Racism and discrimination still exist in America, that is undeniable. That said, this nation is less racist and more equal today than at any time in her sometimes painful, prejudiced - and violent history. A lot of work still needs to be done but despite what we read in the papers and on social media or see on TV, the long-term trajectory is moving in the right direction.
We hope the senseless death of George Floyd and the peaceful protests that followed will be looked upon in this nation’s history books as an inflection point for positive reflection and change moving forward. We are all more similar than different. Let us continue to work towards making America a more peaceful and equitable land in which to raise our children.