The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, who dug his knee into Floyd’s neck, feels all too familiar. Like Eric Garner in New York, Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe.” As with Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, riots ensued. Floyd’s death also occurred not far from where an unarmed Philando Castille was killed by police in 2016.
In other words, we’ve seen this movie before.
Well, yes and no.
This latest episode of a heartless cop crushing his knee into a poor man’s neck, while his fellow cops just stood by, seemed to reach another level. The revulsion was instant and widespread, with condemnations from police chiefs across the country. No one was cautioning that we should “get all the facts” before “rushing to judgement.”
The cruel face of an abusive cop oblivious to the cries of a dying man was all we needed to see, and it sent everyone into a tizzy.
It also felt like a tipping point, a final straw that turned frustration and anger into rage and fury. In the midst of the pandemic crisis, when so many have lost their lives and livelihoods, Floyd’s death was the match that lit a national tinderbox.
Equally outrageous was the failure to immediately arrest Chauvin. The killing occurred on a Monday; authorities didn’t arrest him until Friday, well after the riots had started. As legal expert and former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review Online, “The claim that the prosecutor had to wait to authorize an arrest until the investigators nailed down all the evidence is nonsense.”
He added: “This was not a fleeting incident, or a situation in which Floyd was resisting—he was pleading for his life. … Obviously, it was a crime. When a violent crime has clearly happened, the person who committed it should be placed under arrest, immediately.”
It’s quite possible that an immediate arrest of Chauvin and his three accomplices might have prevented or at least mitigated the rioting. In any case, the failure of law enforcement to move swiftly and forcefully was unforgivable.
What especially pains me is that the rioting has taken over the story. Floyd’s murderer doesn’t deserve that we change the subject. His crime ought to remain the story. But that’s not how the media works. When the media sees burning police cars, the looting of small businesses or an attack on CNN offices, you can be sure they’ll be all over it.
Even if it’s only a criminal minority that is exploiting the chaos, for the media, the optics of riots are like red meat to a lion. That is where we are now: “Violent Protests Break Out Across Nation” has become the major headline.
It goes without saying that there’s no excuse for violence, looting and destruction of property, just as there’s no excuse for an overly aggressive police response to the demonstrations. But the deeper tragedy, as I see it, is that the rioting is undermining and overtaking a worthy cause.
Instead of talking about police violence, we’re talking more about protester violence that makes for dramatic media images. That’s not justice.
During a press conference on Saturday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged people who would resort to violence, “Do not do a disservice to the memory of George [Floyd.] … Do not make a disservice to the folks who have died at the hands of the brutality that we all stand against.”
These are easy comments to make for those who are not victims of racism and violence, but the mayor has a point. The rage among protesters is justified, but the rioting doesn’t advance their cause.
Instead of the Summer of Riots, this should be the summer of “I Can’t Breathe.”
If I had a magic wand, I would organize Million People Marches with protesters across the nation wearing masks that say, “I can’t breathe.” In fact, everyone who wears a mask during these pandemic times should write “I can’t breathe” on them.
An “I can’t breathe” solidarity movement that would rally the nation would keep the focus on the original crime and the original issue. Looking beyond the present riots, it’s not too late to plan national marches for July Fourth, our national holiday of freedom.
George Floyd, along with other victims of racism and police violence, deserves nothing less.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate