One thing you can be certain about while living through the Trump years is that whenever you think this illegitimate and criminal presidential administration has hit rock bottom, rock bottom somehow has a deep basement that must now be some sleazy underground city at some point. Apparently, as the Trump crew descend further from the moral limbo stick since the 2016 presidential election, it has been one crisis after another each one being worse than before. As of June 2020, we’re in the midst of a major pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans and without any form of capable, compassionate, or any unifying leadership.
On Thursday, May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Powderhorn community. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time occurred after Floyd became unresponsive. Officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung, and Thomas K. Lane participated in Floyd’s arrest. Keung held Floyd’s back. Lane held his legs. Thao looked on and prevented an onlooker’s intervention as he stood nearby. Local police arrested Floyd, accusing him of using a fake $20 bill at a market. According to them, Floyd resisted arrest. While some media organizations stated that a nearby business security camera doesn’t show this. While the criminal complaint filed after the incident later said that body camera footage showed Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe while standing outside the police car, resisted getting in, and intentionally fell down. Several bystanders recorded the event with their smartphones with one showing Floyd repeating, “Please,” “I can’ breathe,” “Mama,” and “Don’t kill me.” Though Minnesota law allows knee-to-neck restraints under certain circumstances, law enforcement experts have criticized Chauvin’s use of the technique as excessive. The next day, all 4 officers were fired.
Two autopsies of Floyd were conducted, both ruling his death a homicide. The Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy report states that George Floyd had died from a cardiac arrest while under law enforcement restraint. While noting significant conditions such as, “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use.” Dismayed, Floyd’s family commissioned a private independent autopsy which found that the, “evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause” of Floyd’s death, with neck compression restricting blood and oxygen to the brain, while back compression restricted breathing. Naturally, at the Minneapolis Police Department’s request, The FBI currently conducts a federal civil rights investigation as we speak. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is looking into possible Minnesota statute violations. On May 29, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death (which I suppose was part of a compromise). Though Hennepin County district attorney, Michael O. Freeman promised to bring charges against the other 3 officers. As of June 2, 2020, there have been no indictments or charges filed against the accomplices.
Naturally after George Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests within the Twin Cities erupted. Though initially peaceful on May 26, violence interfered as a police precinct and 2 stores were set on fire while many stores suffered looting and damage. Some demonstrators clashed with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Additional protests sprung up in over 200 throughout all 50 states as well as internationally. Such has revealed the pent-up anger over institutional racism nationwide. Given how black people have been subjected to violence by the state and white people for most of American history, this isn’t anything new. While mass demonstrations against state violence have also been a fixture in US politics all the way from the Civil Rights Movement. Scenes from Minneapolis, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and many other cities are just the latest chapter.
And to no one’s surprise, we already have political leaders and others subsuming the protestors’ perfectly legitimate grievances and questioning whether they’re appropriately registering their anger. Such is also a pattern in these moments. Demonstrations become so visible and visceral in the news coverage that they become the story. So the structural problems being protested start fading into the background. Indeed, politicians violence at the protests and for good reason. Since any bodily harm and property damage is of course, worrisome. But their concerns demonstrate the fundamental asymmetry that the protestors are pushing back against. The state has a monopoly on legitimate violence, which is often directed on black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Casile, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and the list goes on. When they die, the police officers responsible too frequently face no repercussions because the powers that be protect them. Should the men who killed George Floyd go to prison for their crimes, they’ll be exceptions to the unjust and longstanding rule.
Yet, should anger and frustration from centuries of racial oppression compels a peaceful protest to become “violent” (even if most of the reported attacks have been directed against property), that other kind of violence becomes the dominant story. So far as politicians are concerned, it’s a disruption to the natural order that must be corrected. The systematic racism that’s led to so many black lives being cut short becomes secondary. But it really shouldn’t because wanton police violence is a real problem America must grapple with. Otherwise, this will happen again.
Though we should keep in mind that many of these folks decrying the protestors for expressing their anger over police shooting unarmed black people without consequence are the same people who freaked out over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. The then backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers destroyed no property, harmed no one, and expressed his anger over these police killings peacefully and appropriately. And yet, white people still got angry at him for stupid shit like disrespecting the flag or the troops that he’s no longer playing in the NFL. On the other hand, I have seen several demonstrations involving white men carrying guns I think should be banned that have received considerably tame coverage by mainstream media outlets and heroic praises from Fox News. One of these was an act of terror regarding these guys putting an Oregon wildlife refuge under siege for roughly three weeks. Some of these protests feature people with affiliations in Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups. And unless something really awful happens like the violence in Charlottesville, most of them aren’t arrested, tear gassed, beat up, or subjected to rubber bullets. Nor do their guns get confiscated. Most of them usually go home to their families and their lives without consequence unless an online outing results in them being fired. But even then there are exceptions like if you work for Fox News, Brietbart, OAN, Sinclair, or the Trump administration. And if they do face criminal charges, they’ll get sympathy from the jury and likely acquittal.
Unless you live under a rock or watch a steady diet of Fox News (which you shouldn’t), it’s painfully obvious that the American criminal justice system is prejudice against black Americans who are much more likely to be subjected to state-sanctioned violence in the US compared to their white counterparts. According to recent study by Rutgers, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis, black men face 1 in 1,000 odds of being killed by police in their lifetimes. But that’s only the most extreme form of discrimination. In both ways big and small, the criminal justice system is biased against black Americans. As a 2018 Washington Post article lists:
- Black people are about twice as likely as white people to be pulled over by law enforcement for a traffic stop
- Black and Latino drivers are much more likely to be searched once they are pulled over by the police
- The murders of white people are more likely to be solved than the murders of black people
- White people make up less than half of America’s murder victims, yet 80% of the convicted murderers sentenced to death had killed a white person
- Black Americans are much more likely to be arrested and charged for drug-related crimes, despite no significant disparity in how much those populations actually use narcotics
- Potential jurors who are black are much more likely to be dismissed by prosecutors than potential white jurors
- White defendants are substantially more likely than black defendants to have their most serious charge dismissed as part of a plea bargain
- Even when black men and white men are convicted of the same crime, the black men can expect a prison sentence that is 20% longer
This can go on, but you see the point. Racial discrimination is pervasive in every facet of American society, especially in criminal justice that manifests in every step from arrest to incarceration. And sadly, George Floyd’s brutal killing is only the extreme example of how the state exerts its power over black Americans, which is why those protesting his death want to remedy.
And of course, racism doesn’t just manifest its inherent ugliness in American institutions. Some of its white people as you can see with the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Trayvon Martin in Florida. Black people deal with the kind of suspicion leading to these guys’ deaths all the time. According to a recent Pew poll, 65% of black people said that someone acted suspicious toward them because of their race, compared to just 25% of white Americans. Such figures suggest a deep level of persistent prejudice. And quantifying racist attitudes because many people don’t want to admit holding them.
A 2017 Pew Research survey provides a useful proxy: as 54% of white Americans claim that black people who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition, while only 35% correctly blame racial discrimination. Among black Americans, the numbers are flipped with 59% citing racial discrimination while 31% said people were responsible for their own problems. If you to understand the different worldviews of the protestors and the people who criticize the demonstrations for getting out of hand, that data is a good place to start. Hell, if you’re white, go to your family gathering and observe all the racist dog whistles within your relatives’ conversations. Many of my aunts and uncles voted for Trump, which I see as not just insulting but utterly disgusting, morally repugnant, and disgraceful, regardless of their rationale. Also, if you live in a white neighborhood, take note of all the Trump signs going up as the November nears, which I see as going against America, my Catholic faith, and basic human decency. Now I know you don’t have to be conservative or even a Trump supporter to be racist. After all, look at Hollywood every awards season when there’s an “Oscars so White” controversy with white mediocrity getting the statuettes and masterworks by people of color getting ignored.
As par with the criminal justice system being racist, studies found that black Americans were less likely to have their complaints against law enforcement officers compared to those of white people. This was especially when those complaints pertained to excessive force. Not to mention, there’s a long track record showing how rarely police officers are arrested, much less convicted, when they kill someone in the line of duty. From 2006-2011, only 41 police officers were arrested for murder or negligent homicide in the line of duty. Meanwhile, over the same period, police officers committed more than 2,700 “justifiable” homicides. Thus, either US law enforcement are almost always justified in the most extreme use of force or there are systematic obstacles to holding police officers accountable when they kill one of their constituents.
So given how rarely complaints about police violence are taken up and prosecuted by the same criminal justice system enabling these law enforcement officers, protests akin to what you see in Minneapolis and across the US are one of the few tools available to people wishing to register their opposition to these institutional prejudices. It’s a tradition going back years and reaching its zenith during the civil rights era. The forceful police violence displays shown through cell phone videos on and social media have energized a new era of civil action, beginning with the Ferguson protests and continuing to this day. We should note that many, if not most of these protests remain nonviolent. They operate on a philosophy pioneered by Mohandas K. Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. In the US: peacefully and publicly register one’s discontent with injustices and allow the state’s response, usually militant and sometimes violent, to speak for itself. However, it can be difficult to maintain nonviolence in large groups. And we shouldn’t be surprised that huge demonstrations have resulted in some bad actors getting the spotlight. But before politicians seize on those incidents as representatives of this entire anti-police violence movement, we must know the full story remains unknown.
Minnesota officials stressed that they believe many of the violent protestors caught on news cameras leading to such negative comments, aren’t actually local residents. That alone should be a warning against letting the protests overshadow the problem they’re protesting. Nonetheless, these protests will eventually end. But the problem of America’s racist past and present will remain.
However, if we must wait out the storm during 2020, we must be wary of Donald Trump. Sure, he may be an ignorant orange cartoon supervillain who’s being trounced in the polls by Joe Biden. Yes, he’s a narcissistic psychopath willing to burn our American democracy to the ground to save his own skins. And yes, he’s turned our great country into an utter disaster area. But we must not underestimate him nor take his pitfalls for granted. Trump is no political genius. Yet, he’s a master at exploiting political divisions with his race-baiting demagoguery and self-glorified theatrics. However, what makes him successful is what makes him dangerous. He knows only one thing and very well. Division is all he sees. Discord is all he knows. And all he can do is escalate. As the King Midas of strife, he turns the country he’s supposed to lead into the thing he believes we are, what he is himself.
When we mistakenly elected Donald Trump, we elected a political arsonist. Yet, as bad as things have been, his presidency’s sole consolation as the dearth of what little dry timber we had. The economy hummed along. We faced few foreign crises. Domestic divisions mostly remained on social media. Of course, this doesn’t dismiss real disasters or excuse the Trump administration’s exceptionally cruel policies. Kids were thrown into cages. Toxins were dumped in our streams. While mismanaging Hurricane Maria proved lethal for many Puerto Ricans. But it could’ve been worse. However, the pandemic that Trump fed with his administration’s erratic mismanagement has left over 100,000 Americans dead, which is more than twice as many lives we lost in Vietnam. And the count keeps rising. The economy is in freefall since stay at home orders and social distancing measures has resulted in closed businesses and 40 million Americans out of work. Our societal fabric has been cut while our culture is at war over lockdowns and facemasks as the federal government has epically failed to chart a path toward a safe future. We’re essentially a nation interrupted, aching for the normalcy we lost, unsure of the future we face.
Now that protests and riots have erupted over the newest round of lynchings, there’s blood on the streets, cars mowing through crowds, buildings on fire, bodies being buried, police casually firing on the very people they’re sworn to protect. While all of us are trapped at home see things we can’t unsee are forced to reckon what the country has always sought to delay. As James Baldwin noted, “There are too many things we do not wish to know ourselves.” But thanks to smartphone cameras and viral videos, we see who we truly are and we see who are leaders truly are. Yet, Congress can’t resolve small disputes, let alone fundamental fractures. While Donald Trump is eager for the storm to come since he doesn’t know how to fight the virus. He does know, however, how to fight his own countrymen.
Fortunately, few Americans like want violence in our lives. And we may still be a better country than Donald Trump thinks we are. Cable channels and social media feeds may bombard us with sensationalized violence and destruction, the nonviolent remain true to the story and are the vast majority who risk their bodies for justice, sweep up broken glass, absorb blows from batons and inhaling tear gas simply as an act of solidarity. They make America great. Yet, as our lives turn into nightmares, we are scared, hurt, mistrustful, and divided. And it’s an election year. The kindling is everywhere. The United States of America is a country on the verge of war with itself and so badly needs the leadership it doesn’t have, a empathetic president who truly wants peace.