George Floyd was an African American man from Minneapolis, who was choked to death by a police officer on March 25, 2020 while arresting him for spending a forged $20 bill. His death outraged America, particularly African Americans, who staged protests in Minneapolis, which led to looting and clashes with the police. Meanwhile, social media has been flooded with debates, accusations, apologies, pleas, justifications, and general screams of frustration.
The death of George Floyd was an unnecessary and unsurprising tragedy. Watching America scramble for a call to action, I’ve noticed a typically American lack of nuance in the national dialogue. I’m not going to solve the world’s problems with my hot take on the issue, but I want to be on the right side of the conversation and try to offer the voice of reason when so many people are looking for a one-point solution to a one-point problem.
America’s police force kills over 1,000 people per year. Some of these are justified, some of them aren’t. The only time you ever hear any outrage over the subject is when a white cop kills an unarmed African American. The are two reasons for this. One, African Americans feel disproportionately targeted by systemic racism in the police force. This conclusion is drawn from the fact that African Americans make up 12% of the population but account for 26% of police killings. Two, if we’re being honest, 99% of the viral videos of police killings involve African Americans. If you get all your news from social media, you’d think they’re the only victims of police brutality.
Every year, police kill twice as many whites as blacks, almost as many Latinos, and a handful of other people.
Imagine if you were a shepherd, and you had a flock of 1000 sheep. Every year, wolves killed 50 white sheep, 25 black sheep, 24 brown sheep, and 1 spotted sheep. So you sat down and tried to figure out a way to stop the wolves from targeting black sheep. Even if you could bring the percentage of black deaths down to 10%, you’d still be left with a wolf problem.
In regards to police, if you frame the problem as a primarily race-based issue, then the logical solution is race-based sensitivity training, but no amount of cultural awareness Power Point briefings are going to end the systemic abuse of force by the police.
The root of the problem is the militarization and commodification of law enforcement that sweeps up all races in its reign of terror. The strongest evidence for this is the fact that black cops are just as likely to kill blacks as white cops.
If you sat through every training session police officers attend through their career, you’ll never hear a speech about how you’re supposed to target African Americans. You will be trained to view everyone as a threat. You’ll be instructed to “go beyond the ticket” and attempt to escalate every minor traffic stop into an excuse to search for contraband. You’ll be trained to use military grade weapons and fighting techniques. You’ll be brainwashed to uphold the law no matter how frivolous they are, and you’ll punish victimless crimes because your police station relies on funding from tickets, and the prison-industrial complex has bribed politicians to design the law to fill prison beds for the profit of publicly traded prisons.
I’m not saying the police don’t do any good, but they should expand their motto to, “serve, protect, terrorize, and profit.” As long as their mission includes terror and profit, nobody is safe. If you fix that, then you’ll save lives from every race.
Fixing law enforcement’s misguided mission and systemic culture of violence is a necessary step in ending unnecessary police killings, but there are other factors that need to be addressed.
If it’s a moral imperative that we stop black people from being killed, then we’re obligated to ask why 93% of black murder victims are killed by black people and 41% of violent crimes are committed by blacks. I’ve seen Black Lives Matter supporters say it’s racist to point out these statistic, but ignoring the problem can’t help solve it. These numbers are important, because they may help explain why police officers (including black ones) seem to be more afraid of African Americans than other races.
You don’t have to dig deep into African American arts before you find that it has its own culture of violence, which creates a perfect storm when it meets police officers’ culture of violence.
You can call me a racist for pointing out violent crime statistics and the popularity of gang culture You can get me fired from my job and kicked off social media, but tomorrow, Pizza Hut still won’t deliver pizza to the ghetto, and the police will still be vividly aware of the statistics and culture they’re walking into when they enter black neighborhoods.
The African American community is desperate to blame someone for systematically training police to fear them. While there are surely nuanced external historical, sociological, and political factors involved, it’s honestly unfair to act surprised that cops would look at ambassadors for the black community like these and extrapolate assumptions:
I’m not saying African Americans deserve to be stereotyped. I’m saying, if you’re looking for sources of stereotypes and want to protect black people from getting killed, you would accomplish more by lecturing gun-toting gangsters than random white suburbanites on the internet.
But even that won’t fix the root problem that created and sustains gangsta culture: systemic economic oppression. Desperate circumstances lead to desperate actions. If you live in a poor community with few jobs (and mostly low paying ones), then the cost-benefit analysis of committing crimes to survive rises. The more crime there is, the more important it is to protect yourself from criminals, and this equation quickly spirals into a cycle of violence.
Gangstas wouldn’t need a charismatic leader to convince them to choose jobs over crime if good jobs existed in the ghetto and the economy wasn’t designed to bankrupt the poor. Until all poor Americans have immediate access to high paying jobs and an affordable cost of living, no amount of motivational speeches are going to prevent poor people from choosing crime over non-existent opportunities in a system that sets them up for failure.
So how do you bring jobs back to the ghetto? Not by looting and burning down businesses. I’ve seen people online justify rioting by saying peaceful protests haven’t worked. So this is their only recourse. They even compared their actions to the Boston Tea Party… ignoring the fact that the Boston Tea Party led to a civil war.
The Boston Tea Party analogy would be accurate if protesters were stealthily burning police stations and nothing else. That might send a powerful message, but there can only be one response to uncontrolled looting and destruction: the police are obligated to respond with brute force. By their actions, rioters are demanding cops reciprocate violence with violence. The only possible outcome of this course of action is more immediate violence, and in the long run, more militarization of the police and distrust.
I could be wrong. Enough violence might force somebody to do something… but not without tangible, actionable demands. Nobody in power can pass a law that makes cops stop being bad. In order for the Black Lives Matter movement to be successful, it needs a clear leader with a list of actionable demands and a strategy for applying leverage in case their requests aren’t met.
Even then, there’s a word for an organization that threatens governments with lists of demands: “terrorists.” And we all know how America responds to terrorists.
There is another option though. America has a system built in place for charismatic leaders to change laws: elections. The Democratic and Republican party have both proven they only work for their campaign donors and lobbyists. If you’re not funding their careers, they don’t give a fuck about you. So I’m not suggesting voting Democrat will save the poor.
What African Americans can do though is start their own political party and put Black Lives Matter politicians directly into the system where they can literally write the laws without having to beg, coerce, bribe, or wait on anyone else. That could directly change the systemic flaws in the the police force and the economy.
For what it’s worth, that’s what I think the call to action from George Floyd’s death should be.
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