As a somewhat public figure simply by writing this column for over twenty years, I feel a responsibility to offer my opinion on Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
I believe that most of us see the atrocity in what happened and agree with the peaceful protestors. Yet, there’s an underlying current that I’d like to address. To that end, I noticed a statement circulating on social media that states, “7 Funerals, a golden casket, and broadcast on every major network for a man who was a violent felon and career criminal? Soldiers die and the family gets a flag.”
Unsurprisingly, those who post this find strong emotional reaction going both ways.
Apparently, it’s said that Mr. Floyd served time in prison on multiple occasions from 1998-2007 for theft with a firearm, cocaine possession, and armed robbery. These facts appear in other social media posts.
I come at it differently.
George Floyd’s personal background is not the issue. It’s reported that Mr. Floyd was arrested for passing a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. No one knows whether he knew the bill was counterfeit or not. At the time of his death, he was restrained by handcuffs and on the ground. A review of Floyd’s rap sheet is a convenient excuse to ignore the real issues.
No one in our society in that situation should perish at the hands of law enforcement officers acting as judge, jury, and executioner. That’s not how our justice system works, and, as we’ve been reminded, this was not an isolated incident.
I see the comparison of “soldiers’ families [only] get a flag” as unrelated to the George Floyd issue. We all honor our fallen heroes. A federal holiday, Memorial Day, commemorates those brave and selfless individuals.
Instead, I see the demonstrations around our country speaking to a separate issue. Just as a 21-gun salute honors those who gave their lives for freedom, the pomp and circumstance surrounding George Floyd’s funeral symbolizes not just his life, but of all the lives lost to unjust police brutality, disproportionally many of those people of color.
At the same time, we mustn’t minimize the risk our men and woman in law enforcement uniform face daily. Many unsuspecting officers, for example, have been killed during routine traffic stops by a driver wielding a gun. These brave men and women face the worst in our society and must often make instantaneous decisions regarding life and death.
What separates those from the George Floyd incident is 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
A salient, somewhat lighthearted yet serious thought about police brutality over people of color was offered by comedian Chris Rock in a 2018 Netflix special. He said, “I know being a cop is hard. I know that shit’s dangerous. I know it is; okay? But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like pilots. Ya know, American Airlines can’t be like, ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains.’”
Finally, what can we do now, as a community, society and nation? It’s no longer enough to shake our heads yet remain silent. For society to progress, perhaps we need to ask those who are most affected what change they would like to see that would make a difference and then seriously consider implementing those measures.
This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an issue about each and every one of us to consider and act upon.
© 2020 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.