It’s human nature, I suppose, to form opinions and make judgments based upon our own life experiences and circumstances without considering the experiences and circumstances of others.
For white Americans who have never had a frightening experience with police, it might be difficult to understand why black Americans react so strongly to instances of police brutality. It might be difficult to empathize with their emotions, simply because we’ve never been in their position.
As protests and riots broke out across the country over the weekend in response to the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, my daughter-in-law said she didn’t understand why Floyd’s death in police custody was being viewed through the prism of race.
My daughter-in-law isn’t racist, and she isn’t stupid. She’s a young white woman who doesn’t view things the same way a young black woman might. Race isn’t a central theme of my daughter-in-law’s life because — like most white people in America — it doesn’t define her in her own mind or the minds of others. For hundreds of years, however, black people in America have been defined and judged based on the color of their skin.
The black experience in America is different than the white experience. That’s a simple fact, borne from nearly 250 years of slavery and perpetuated by the kind of systemic racism that still exists to varying degrees today.
I believe that George Floyd was murdered. I’m not sure how anyone who has seen the video footage of a Minneapolis police officer with a knee in Floyd’s neck for several minutes, with Floyd pleading for mercy, could reach a different conclusion.
I don’t believe Floyd’s death is an indictment of all police officers. It is simply a reflection of the individual officers involved. But it continues a disturbing pattern of similar events across our country, and we cannot continue to accept these horrific events as the status quo.
As I watched the reaction to Floyd’s death unfold, I saw some people express their support for peaceful protests while condemning more violent reactions. I agree: Protests should be peaceful. But I couldn’t help recognizing the hypocrisy of some of those same folks, who once were absolutely outraged by the same kind of peaceful protests they now claim to be advocating.
I was reminded, too, that it was less than a month ago when some local loudmouths were openly discussing the idea of engaging in armed conflict with the state police and the National Guard over the cancellation of a recreational event.
Human nature is a strange and sometimes frightening thing.