It’s time to Break It Down!
George Floyd, 46, died May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cause of death, homicide by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure” when his neck and back were compressed by police officers for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The pressure cut off the flow of blood to his brain, an independent autopsy determined.
In the 15 nights that have ensued since then, a series of protests have arisen in over 75 cities across the United States, and indeed, worldwide. As May gave way to June, and we find ourselves on the cusps of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), or winter (in the Southern Hemisphere), it appears that, here in the United States, we are well on the way to our next long hot summer.
Over these two and a half weeks, I have read and listened to countless debates about the tenor and tone of the protests, a number of which have turned violent. The protests, not the conversations.
Some folks argue that protesters are working at cross purposes with their own interests. They suggest that protesters are simply using Mr. Floyd’s untimely demise as an excuse for rioting and looting. This view seems to be particularly prevalent among conservatives/Republicans. An NBC News/The Wall Street Journal poll of 745 Registered Voters found that of those polled, 81% of Democrats, and 59% of Independents were more concerned about George Floyd’s death and the actions of police, than with violent protests. Conversely, only 29% of Republicans shared that perspective.
In other words, nearly 6 in 10 Independents, and more than 8 in 10 Democrats were more concerned about Mr. Floy’s death, and the draconian, and irresponsible actions that led to it. Concomitantly, less than 3 in 10 Republicans were more concerned about the death than the reactions to the murder, or public lynching, as it has been deemed in some circles. The polling had a +/- 3.5 points error ratio.
George Perry Floyd, Jr., was a human being, an African American, a man, a son, a father, a brother, and a person who had lived in 4 states across the American South, Southwest, and Midwest. H mattered. He was a native North Carolinian, born in Fayetteville. His life mattered. But for all the reasons Mr. Floyd’s life, and especially his death, will forever be tied to America’s 2020 Summer of Discontent, notwithstanding, he is not the cause, but rather a symptom of the current societal angst and turmoil.
Herewith, the primer. If you subscribe to American folklore, you might believe that police, as we know them today, are as old as the Republic. They are not. The earliest policing was an informal practice, based on a for profit, privately funded model, employing part-timers. Some towns employed a “night watch” in which volunteers signed up for a certain day and time, mostly to look out for fellow colonists engaging in gambling or prostitution. Boston, the first, started one in 1636, New York followed in 1658, and Philadelphia created one in 1700. It was very inefficient, because the watchmen often slept and drank while on duty, and there were people who were placed on watch duty as a form of punishment.
The night-watch officers were supervised by a constable. That wasn’t a highly sought-after position either. Early policemen didn’t want to wear badges because these guys had bad reputations to begin with, and they didn’t want to be identified as people other people didn’t like. When communities tried compulsory service, “if you were rich enough, you paid someone to do it for you – ironically, a criminal or a community thug. As the nation grew, different regions made use of different policing systems.
The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time, like the first night watch system, was created in Boston, in 1838, just over two hundred years later. In the South however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests, such as in Boston, but on the preservation of the slavery system. Therefore, slave patrols were among the primary Southern policing institutions. The first formal patrols were created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. These entities had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules.
During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South. Over the course of Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in ways analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation, and maintaining the disenfranchisement of freed slaves. Following the Civil War, these vigilante-style organizations evolved into modern Southern police departments primarily as a means of controlling freed slaves who were now laborers working in an agricultural caste system, and enforcing “Jim Crow” segregation laws, designed to deny freed slaves equal rights and access to the political system.
As the nation evolved, so did the methods and schemes designed to maintain order, in part by keeping the black man down, even if it meant separating him from his most valued possession; his life. Throughout the eras, from Slavery (1619-1865), to Reconstruction (1862-1877), to Jim Crow (1877-1954), to Civil Rights (1954-1965), to Modern times 1965-Present), as rights and freedoms have evolved, so have the mechanisms used to disenfranchise and deprive black Americans from full and complete participation in fruits of our so-called exceptional country. The bottom line is black men were beaten and lynched in1620, and the same is true in 2020. That it happened 400 years ago stains the pompous assertion of exceptionality. That this wack and violent measure was used to kill black men in the 17th century was a travesty. That the tactic is still employed in the 21st century renders bogus, the premise that America is exceptional, at least in a positive way.
That contemporary law enforcement officers act in a capacity akin to 18th century slave patrols, in effect, hunting down, and/or killing black men without cause, or consequence, is the reason we are experiencing the current level of civil disobedience, unrest, and violence. In response, to those individuals who would prefer us to suffer in silence, and not act out, we have largely done that, and policemen and women are still killing black men. We are constantly told, these acts are the purview of a few bad apples, yet, the preponderance of good apples seldom reigns in the bad apples, and in fact, often sides with, and defends them. Just this past weekend, 57 Buffalo officers resigned because two of their colleagues were suspended for shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground, resulting in a cracked skull, and other severe injuries. The 57 officers comprised the entire Buffalo Police Department emergency response team. The officers will still be employed by the department but will no longer work on the emergency response team. Where were the good apples?
Consider that not long ago, Colin Kapernick, and other NFL players who kneeled as the National Anthem was played at football games to protest police violence against black men and women, were deemed S.O.B.’s, by the individual considered the leader of the free world. Today, the NFL Commissioner (and a litany of other business executives) says the League made a mistake in how it treated players, who were apparently ahead of their time in peacefully protesting the termination of black lives by officers of the law. What changed? Yes, Mr. Floyd was killed, but that in itself merely added to the too rapidly mounting carnage total. The ante was raised substantially by the ensuing protests. Corporations have committed to donate $billions to help right the many wrongs, in what amounts to the government sponsored plundering of black lives. I haven’t heard Mr. Trump amend his position on the subject. Of course he hasn’t recanted his DNA obliterated position on the Central Park 5 either, so, I’m not holding my breath. But it’s clear, numerous executives, businesses, and leaders, propelled by good will, common sense, and yes, a few videos, have come to see the light on the issue. That’s is at least a start. Black America does not need or want to get something off its collective chest. No, we want and need an end to systemic racism, and for police officers to take their knees off our necks, stop shooting us when we are unarmed, or when we are armed (since we have Second Amendment rights too), and posing no threat. Is that too much to ask?
In conclusion, the point is, Mr. Floyd’s death was the result of a senseless act of violence, and as The Reverend Al Sharpton said during Mr. Floyd’s eulogy, yesterday, a crime. The local police union and others are trying to shift the focus and responsibility to Mr. Floyd. His record has become a source of deflection. This, in spite of the fact that Officer Derek Chauvin, who’s knee to the neck, caused Mr. Floyd to expire, is the subject of 18 prior complaints, only two of which were closed with disciplinary action. This is an example of the kind of case, in which officers are often exonerated, or, simply not charged in the first place. It just so happened that Mr. Floyd’s case was captured, virtually from start to finish, on video. Chauvin was one of four officers involved at the scene. The three others, participated, either directly, or by shielding bystanders from intervening. None of them stopped Chauvin or administered CPR after Mr. Floyd stopped breathing and/or ceased to show signs of a pulse. Moreover, consider this. It’s still not considered an open and shut case. That, in a nutshell, is why an inordinate number of people, and not just black people, but Americans of all persuasions, as well as individuals from other countries around the world, are in an uproar, or, paraphrase Fannie Lou Hamer’s immortal words, spoken 56 years ago, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” To wit…“Root Cause Analysis: This Didn’t Begin With George Floyd!”
I’m done; holla back!
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