May 30th 2020
As I write this, we’re moving into the fifth night of civil unrest and full-on riots in the wake of the video of four Minneapolis police systematically murdering an African American man for – supposedly – spending a ten or a twenty dollar bill that might have been counterfeit. There’s pretty much zero evidence of any criminal intent, and even if Floyd was an evil mastermind producing millions of bogus notes in his basement, that usually doesn’t carry a death sentence.
Under any circumstances, the videos of Floyd’s murder would have been horrifying, but what made this stand out was how calm and collected the four cops were as a man lay dying under their knees. They were chatting, who knows about what? The Stanley Cup round robin? The weather? Lamenting about how the Civil War made killing slaves illegal? It was a cold, calculating murder, of the sort you associate with the Nazis, or Bond villains.
I was scared that America was becoming inured to the willful murder of African-Americans. In recent times, there have been Trayvon Martin, who was shot in 2012 by a murderous cop wannabee, George Zimmerman. Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, and neo-Nazi bigots crowed that he had it coming because he shoved a shopkeeper a half-hour earlier. Brown’s murder sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement, much ridiculed by Donald Trump and other right wing trash. Dontre Hamilton was killed for being schizophrenic in public. Aside from being noisy, he wasn’t breaking any law, but a cop, Christopher Manney, decided to pat him down, and when Hamilton pulled away, Manney shot him.
Eric Garner was famously murdered by New York’s finest for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. He uttered the phrase, hideously echoed this week, “I can’t breathe.” There are still apologists for racist murders who say if he could speak, he could breathe, and that he probably actually died from an ingrown toe nail, or some other hidden medical condition aggravated by having oxygen to the brain cut off for ten minutes. The same fools were saying the same thing six years later.
John Crawford, 22, was gunned down for picking up a toy .22 rifle in a WalMart and walking with it to the checkout stands in order to purchase it.
Ezell Ford, unarmed, was shot in the back by two police officers. He was accused of no crime, and the investigation was put on “administrative hold.”
Dante Parker was tased to death by San Bernardino cops. Tanisha Anderson, 37, died after cops smashed her head repeatedly against the pavement. Apparently they considered that a viable treatment for schizophrenia. Akai Gurley, 28, was shot for no reason at all by a cop. “Accidental discharge” they called it. Gurley wound up accidentally dead as a result.
Tamir Rice, age 12, was just a kid playing with a toy gun. In Cleveland, that, and black skin, is enough to get you killed. The poor panicked cops mistook him for an adult with an AR-15. The one who actually killed Tamir got fired, but don’t worry—he’s a cop somewhere else now, protecting white society from kids with toy guns.
Jerame Reid, 36, was shot and killed by police on suspicion of being black while a passenger in New Jersey.
That just brings us up to 2015. There have been a dozen or more incidents each year since of African-Americans dying at the hands of police where there were images proving that the cops were, at best, reckless, and at worst, murdering swine. Multiply that by dozens, perhaps hundreds of incidents where it was the word of our noble police against that of some black street thug who “reached for his waistband.”
According to the Guardian, in the first five months of 2015, “In total, 478 of those people were shot and killed, while 31 died after being shocked by a Taser, 16 died after being struck by police vehicles, and 19 – including 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore – have died after altercations in police custody.” We were on course for, and eventually met a total of 1,100 dying in police custody or confrontations with police. Over half of those killed were black. Twenty percent were white. It’s only gotten worse since then, led by a fascist regime that values vicious police suppression. Further, there’s no federal law requiring police departments to report fatal encounters to any central agency (the Guardian did its own, private survey), so the number of people killed by police may be double what we know about, or even worse.
Most encounters aren’t caught on camera. Personal webcams some police have to wear have a way of failing at critical moments, so until the rise of smartphones, it was always the word of sorrowful-looking officers against that of some dead guy.
But phones have changed all that. As Will Smith the actor acidly remarked, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” And dozens of times a year, the viciousness and sadism of our alleged public defenders is put on full display.
Such spasms of rage are nothing new in America, of course. Slave revolts were so common, and so feared, that the Founders put the second amendment in, giving cover to slaveowners to hunt down and/or kill rebellious slaves. Slavery led to the civil war. Tulsa, Oklahoma saw its black community nearly exterminated by a mass lynching some 120 years ago. Lynchings were common, and praised by civic leaders from 1870 to 1960. The race riots of the 60s were sparked by a minor incident in Watts, where police stopped a youth, determined he had an outstanding warrant, and arrested him. They didn’t kill him or even rough him up. But onlookers were tired of constantly being detained on suspicion of being black. Then Martin Luther King Junior and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the rage broke wide open.
The only thing surprising about this week’s events is that it took so long to happen. We’ve had three years of a president who has devoted his whole vicious, wastrel life to cheating and defaming African-Americans, a weak, cowardly racist even by the shit standards of the white supremacist.
He demonstrated his hate and fear on the third night, tweeting that that protesters could have been attacked with “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” wielded by the US Secret Service. He also attacked the Washington DC, mayor for supposedly not providing police to protect the White House. Poor defenseless widdle American president. I posted that perhaps the best answer was to put one of those vicious dogs in the Oval Office and put Trump out on the White House lawn to snarl at passers-by. Certainly it would be a win-win for the nation.
“They let the ‘protesters’ scream and rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard – didn’t know what hit them,” Trump said. Nothing more pathetic than a blustering, cowardly, racist bully.
In all of this, there was one gleaming, memorable moment that happened after the night protesters burned Minneapolis’ 3rd Precinct, the pig pen that housed the four cops that murdered George Floyd. The nearby Gandhi Mahal Restaurant was severely damaged by fire. The owner, Ruhel Islam, told a friend, “Let my building burn,” he said. “Justice needs to be served.” The next day, he stood by that statement, saying, “We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human. The community is still here, and we can work together to rebuild.” Mind you, Mr. Islam is almost certainly a Muslim. He’s as much a target of Trump’s fear and hate as any African-American. Nonetheless, he believes in us, whether we deserve it or not.
In the 18th century, a slaveowner, anguished by guilt and aware of the incredible damage slavery and bigotry would do to the country he helped create, wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Thomas Jefferson, no Christian, knew the price to be paid because humans value justice. He would be totally unsurprised by the events of this week.
He might have even felt that justice was being served.