Protests and riots continue to rage thirteen days after George Floyd, an African American man living in Minneapolis, was brutally killed by a police officer during an arrest. We all know and have seen that part of the story. Protesters are claiming, with some validity, police brutality, chanting “Black Lives Matter”, and decrying the return of what appears to be broad spectrum racial hatred, bigotry and prejudice in the United States. Of course, it is not a “return”, it never left. It had only been swept under the rug covering our cultural floor. That covering, many claim, being only a thin fabric of feigned civility and political correctness. This was a muzzle that many Americans were ready to cast off, saying “we’ve had enough”. That frustration rose up, somewhat unexpectedly, during the 2016 election and we are all living with the result.
That thin fabric has been torn away again, as it has at critical times throughout our history, by a tragic event, revealing a fatal flaw in the American character that our society has been attempting to fix for over two hundred years. More on that later in this post.
The family of George Floyd, prominent Civil Rights pastors, politicians and the protesters who abhor his treatment and ultimate fate, have eulogized this man and presented him as an innocent martyr begging for his life before five police officers who are supposed to “serve and protect”, not kill their own citizens. Was George Floyd a model citizen? No, not really. We have been told he was being arrested for attempting to pass a counterfeit $ 20 bill; illegal, but hardly a capital offense. What I haven’t seen on the evening news, Facebook, Twitter and blog posts quite a much, or at all, is that the 46-year-old Mr. Floyd was what most expert authorities would call a “career criminal”. He had been in jail or prison five times since 1995. His charges and convictions included drug abuse and criminal possession, theft, criminal trespassing, aggravated robbery, and, as the ringleader of a violent home invasion, he broke into a woman’s home in Houston, pointing a gun at her stomach and demanding drugs and money in 2009. He was caught, tried and spent four years in prison in Diboll, Texas before being paroled and moving to Minneapolis.
Blood tests performed during his autopsy revealed Mr. Floyd was under the influence of both Fentanyl and methamphetamine at the time of his arrest, a potentially deadly cocktail of drugs. This might account for his refusal to be put in the police vehicle claiming “claustrophobia”. In part, it also might account for the heart attack (cardiopulmonary arrest) he suffered, which was the Hennepin County medical examiner’s “official” cause of death, not asphyxiation. Aside from the passing of counterfeit money and the possible detection of his drug use, it is doubtful that any of the police at the scene knew of Floyd’s past offenses and criminal history. Which is why this appears, and is being interpreted, as a racially fueled or motivated assault, but that will ultimately be decided in a court of law. The only thing I believe is that George Floyd did not deserve to die; not this time, not in this way. As a Christian, I know I am supposed to love him and forgive him as our Lord would do. But, I must admit, sometimes, I struggle with that. I am not perfect by any means.
Ever since the scourge of slavery was prevalent in our country from its founding and finally abolished at the end of a Civil War, which took some 620,000 American lives, our country has been trying to right the wrongs of that egregious system of oppression and prejudice. No less than eight civil rights acts (1866, 1871, 1875, 1951, 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1991) have been enacted to “level the playing field” for people of color, minorities and women. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 attempted to address inequalities in voting, education, employment, use of public facilities, transportation, administration of justice, federal government assistance and other civil rights. While a major step, it still was not enough. Add to those pieces of legislation the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Refugee Act of 1980, and we are still not there yet. Why not? Because as hard as you try to legislate prejudice and bigotry out of existence, nothing will change until the heart of humankind is changed. Until the concept of white supremacy is recognized, confessed and banned from our way of life, until the shame of inequality among the races challenges us to change, until we recognize that we are all children of God, this fight for equality and justice will rage on. Will George Floyd be the “last straw” that finally opens our eyes or will there be more George Floyd’s? Will those who have suffered outrageous circumstances, oppression, even death, before this current tragedy be finally vindicated? We will see.
There are new laws being proposed, changes in police tactics and protocols being adopted across the country in response to this one incident and people are speaking out in peaceful protests. All good things. Looters and vandals are complicating the issue (and the wheels of justice must address that head on), but there is more to this story, much more. I will try to address some of these issues directly in my future posts in a search for understanding. Hope you will continue to follow along and comment as you see fit.