We have passed this way before.
When, on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died while in a chokehold by a New York police officer — who was arresting him for selling single cigarettes.
When, on April 4, 2015, a white officer in North Charleston, S.C., fatally shot Walter Scott in the back after pulling him over for a broken brake light.
When, on July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was fatally shot seven times during a traffic stop by a police officer from St. Anthony, Minn.
Over and over, we keep wondering, finally, if this will be the event that will shock us from our shameful indifference about race.
And over and over, it doesn’t happen.
America’s racial history seems to consist of a series of convulsive actions and reactions. Glimmers of hope and progress. And then backlash ... as if any addition naturally must be followed by a subtraction.
So, will this time be any different?
Will the brutal clarity of what happened to George Floyd finally provoke an overdue reckoning?
Certainly, there are encouraging signs.
There’s the stunning racial diversity of the protest marches.
There’s the diversity of the settings as well. New York and Los Angeles you’d expect. But Taylorsville , Ill., Helena, Mont., and Casper, Wyo.?
There’s poll after poll showing widespread support among Americans for the Black Lives Matter movement: Pew Research Center (67%), Quinnipiac University (67%), Kaiser Family Foundation (64%).
There’s the broad condemnation of Floyd’s death by the law enforcement establishment.
There’s a heartening rush of long-overdue changes in other areas:
- The NFL reverses course on its resistance to player protests of police brutality and might even end its Colin Kaepernick ban.
- Confederate memorials are coming down.
- UNC-Chapel Hill lifts a moratorium on changing names of campus buildings that honor racists and white supremacists.
- Even NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag and Quaker Oats is retiring Aunt Jemima, oh, only about 100 years late.
There’s also the tepid response by President Trump, who has shown more compassion for police than Floyd’s family and who has treated protesters with contempt. Even in announcing an executive order that calls for some cursory policing reforms, Trump made it a point to gush about how wonderful law enforcement is — unless, of course, it’s investigating him. Then, for good measure, he lied about his predecessor, saying, “President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period.” (The Obama administration directly addressed police misconduct with its Task Force on 21st Century Policing, whose initiatives the Trump administration almost immediately began to roll back when it took office.)
There were attempts, inevitably, to poison social media with misinformation, including an allegation that Floyd’s death didn’t happen at all.
There’s the false dichotomy that criticism of bad police is criticism of all police.
There’s the argument that black people wouldn’t die at the hands of police if they simply would follow orders. Tell that to Floyd, who died lying on the ground for nearly nine minutes. Or Brionna Taylor, who died in her bed when police burst into her Louisville, Ky., apartment, shooting her multiple times.
Finally, there is the “But what about?” brigade. As in, “But what about black-on-black crime? Why doesn’t anybody talk about that?”
Perhaps those people didn’t attend an emotional forum held by the Greensboro City Council last fall at Windsor Community Center. Speakers pleaded for police and city help to stem the alarming rate of homicides in the black community. And, yes, they also held each other accountable and suggested community-based solutions.
So, forgive me if I’m not convinced yet that the tragic cycle of black lives senselessly lost in this country is about to end. Two steps forward too often are followed by three back.
Emancipation begets Jim Crow and the Klan.
Black prosperity begets racist attacks on Black Wall Street in Tulsa and the violent overthrow of a city government in Wilmington.
Voting rights begets voter suppression.
And Barack Obama begets Donald J. Trump.