If I had to think of one word to describe how I felt hearing the news of George Floyd’s death, my word would be “numb.” It was just a little over two weeks ago when the news of Ahmaud Aubery made its way across the internet, another case showing the lack of protection black people have in America. Black people face violence from civilians- as seen with Ahmaud Aubery- but we also face violence from those meant to help us.
The officers involved in George Floyd’s murder were fired, but how often do we actually see police officers who killed black people sent to prison? It’s not enough to just fire those involved, not when there is a documented recording of someone being murdered by officers. If the police officers are convicted, will they even serve a long enough amount of time to even partially account for the atrocities they committed?
It was hard for me to read about George Floyd’s death because of how familiar this situation is– and that only makes it more disheartening. Floyd’s last words– “I can’t breathe“– mirror those of Eric Garner, another black man killed by police in 2014. Though the actions of the Black Lives Matter Movement have been widely publicized, it feels like nothing has changed from the deaths that sparked the movement seven years ago.
There is an inevitable moment in publicized cases of systemic racial violence, where people try to paint the victims as somehow deserving of what happened to them- as if violence at that level could ever be excusable. For Eric Garner, it was his “intimidating” appearance. Conservative media did their best to mark Trayvon Martin as a “thug.” Tamir Rice, who was a twelve-year-old child, was automatically deemed a threat because of his fake gun.
The pattern emphasized throughout all of these cases is that black Americans live under the assumption of guilt and danger. It’s this assumption, this conscious or unconscious bias, that leads police officers to claim that the “only way” to diffuse a situation with a black person resisting arrest is with a gun, regardless of actual criminal activity.
George Floyd was suspected of forgery. Whether he resisted arrest or not, the crime he was accused of was a nonviolent one, and the police still exerted maximum force. He was unarmed.
When I learned that, I immediately thought back to the arrest of Dylann Roof in 2015. Roof was arrested for shooting up an African-American church and killing nine people– clearly marking him as a dangerous individual. Yet, when he was arrested, the police bought him Burger King on the way to the station.
There are glaring differences in how black and white people are treated in this country. The justice system has been treating black people unfairly since the beginning– it’s yet another system that was only made to help white people. It’s white Americans that get to argue “self-defense” when they kill another human being because the assumption that a black person is dangerous is so ingrained into our society.
Saying “Black Lives Matter” shouldn’t be controversial or political, but it is still considered so. Black Lives Matter is simply about the fact that black people deserve to be treated fairly by others, and not like animals or less than. The statements “All Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter” or “White Lives Matter” are directly racist, because they were formed to detract attention away from issues black people face in America. Police choose their jobs and the danger that comes with it, but we black Americans did not choose the color of our skin. They can take off their uniform, but we will always be black. These other movements act as a way of silencing our struggles and telling us that the lives of those who look like us aren’t valuable.
George Floyd’s death will not be forgotten amongst the hundreds of others unjustly killed by police. For some, this may have been a wake-up call to the racist injustices our country is still capable of. For black people, it was a reminder.
A reminder that this country still treats us as second class, despite all the work of abolition and civil rights movements. Black children grow up hearing “the talk“– the one to prepare us for police encounters. This should not be the case but it is our terrifying reality.
I’m feeling a lot of emotions after writing this, and I’m sure other black people are as well after hearing this news. For non-black people, take the time today to check on your black friends. For everyone: continue to say his name, share his story, and think about what the murder of George Floyd reveals about America.
image credits: New York Times