Trigger warning: Police brutality, racism
In 1991, when I was nearly one years old—in diapers and milk dripping from my mouth—Rodney King was being savagely beaten in the streets of Los Angeles by four police officers. George Holliday captured the incident on camera and turned the video over to his local television station. The station played the film, which led to it being broadcasted into millions of American homes. The occurrence was not new for most Black Americans—this is what happened in their neighborhoods across the country—but to see it being broadcasted on national television? Well, that was different. Eventually, the four officers were acquitted, serving as catalyst for a series of protests and riots across Los Angeles, California.
Today, the year is 2020. I am 29—old enough to function without diapers, yet young enough where the milk from my infancy still saturates my breath. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes during an arrest. Cameras captured the incident and it was broadcasted into millions of American homes—another black victim of police brutality.
Unlike the Rodney King situation, Americans are not waiting for a verdict to be rendered before taking action. As video footage and images are replayed and shown on television networks and social media platforms, Americans are vacating their homes, ignoring the concept of social distancing during this COVID-19 era, and coming together to protest and riot in an attempt to speak and act out against police brutality.
Mr. King was guilty for his crime. He was speeding and attempted to flee police officers; however, nowhere in the laws of this country does it say that a speeding or fleeing offense is punishable by a brutal beating.
What was Mr. Floyd’s crime? He allegedly counterfeited a $20 bill to buy cigarettes. What was his punishment? Death. Mr. Floyd was arrested, then had a knee placed on his neck for nearly nine minutes by Mr. Chauvin. For almost three of those nine minutes, Mr. Floyd was unresponsive. The cops claim that he was resisting arrest.
I’m fair and like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that Mr. Floyd did resist arrest. Considering Mr. Floyd was unresponsive for nearly three of the nine minutes (that’s one-third or 33.3% for number crunchers) that he had a knee crushing his neck, at what point was it appropriate for Mr. Chauvin to remove his knee? This ignores the question of whether his knee should have been used to strangle Mr. Floyd to begin with. And if multiple police officers couldn’t contain Mr. Floyd, what kind of training are they receiving? Furthermore, I’m not a scientist, but common sense tells me that it is physically impossible to resist arrest while being unconscious. Mr. Chauvin is a trained police officer being supported by other trained police officers. Why did it take these skilled men in uniform nearly three minutes to realize that Mr. Floyd was unconscious?
Mr. Chauvin, Mr. Floyd’s apparent murderer, will get a fair trial to prove his innocence. George Floyd, the man who allegedly counterfeited a $20 bill, won’t get that opportunity.
But let’s stop sugar coating the true crimes that Mr. King and Mr. Floyd committed. Speeding, fleeing, and counterfeiting were their softcore offenses. Their biggest transgression was being black.
Do I need to list historic examples of how our skin color has always been our greatest violation? I can: slavery, Dred Scott v. Sanford, Jim Crow Laws, Emmett Till, Tulsa 1921, etc.
Prosecutors will argue that Mr. Floyd had underlying medical conditions that led to his death. I argue that the number one condition that led to his death was the color of his skin.
I am frustrated. No, I’m tired, because for my entire life I have seen recurring images of Black men and women being abused and killed in the streets as a result of police brutality. I already know that to be successful, I had and must continue to work twice, sometimes three times as hard. But it is more apparent than ever that to avoid being a victim of police brutality, I must be twice as innocent.
I am tired. No, I’m frustrated, because I know that due to the color of my skin, being accused of committing a crime is almost identical to committing a crime. It does not matter how trivial the weight of the alleged crime or offense, for it will always carry the possibility of a death sentence.
I am scared. No, I am terrified, because I have brothers and sisters who share my same skin color, all younger than me, and I fear that anyone of their names can become synonymous with Eric Garner or Sandra Bland.
I am terrified. No, I am scared, because I cannot trust the men and women who have sworn to protect and serve in my best interest to help ensure my safety. And no, I cannot vilify all police officers. But no one can blame me for being apprehensive of them all. I never know which one of them is a Mr. Derek Chauvin in disguise or who will shoot when my hands are up or continue to suffocate me when I am already breathless.
There are many who will claim that the dilemma of police brutality is a political or judicial issue. It’s not. It’s bigger than any president or judge. This is a systematic prejudicial issue. This is a racism issue that is deeply woven into the DNA of these United States of America. But fundamentally, this is a people issue. This is a human issue. This is a right versus wrong issue.
So tonight, just like they did in 1992, American citizens are rioting. Not simply out of frustration, pain, and exhaustion, but also because it is desperately seeking change. Change that we never got as a result of Rodney King, nor Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, and many other men and women who are victims of police brutality. Will Mr. George Floyd’s death finally be the catalyst of change, or will it simply be just another name we read as we get to the end of the list?