With the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin over the tragic death of George Floyd, recent police shootings, and continuing riots all dominating news coverage, it is time to have a serious conversation that honestly examines the situation. To be honest, whatever we are doing right now doesn’t seem to be working — unless the goal is to tear the nation apart.
No reasonable person can watch the video of George Floyd’s arrest and say it was good policing. Likewise, no reasonable person can seriously argue that an officer’s wrongdoing convicts an entire nation of 330 million people. Whatever Chauvin’s motivations may have been, they do not make you or I racists or even complicit. We are each responsible for our own actions — not for the actions of others. But we are responsible as citizens to create a society based in freedom, opportunity and accountability.
The truth is virtually all of America was horrified by the video of George Floyd’s arrest and tragic death. While his condition may have been compromised by an overdose of fentanyl, virtually no one who saw that video thought it was good policing, or that Floyd deserved to die. This fact is proof that America is not broadly or fundamentally racist.
The mad rush to label America a racist nation and to conclude racism is so ingrained in Americans that we are racist even without knowing it is not factual, accurate, fair or reasonable. And perhaps even more troubling, it misdiagnoses the problem and thus won’t correct things. In fact, the so-called cure will only further divide and Balkanize our nation.
The evidence is strong that Americans want justice and opportunity not only for themselves, but for others. In a nation of 330 million people, there are certainly some who are racists. But they are a very small minority. Most Americans properly see racism as loathsome. That is why people of color from all over the world try to make their way to America — they see it as a land of opportunity.
So let’s look for real solutions and leave the slogans out of it. For example, defunding the police will fix nothing. In fact, where police departments have been defunded, crime rates and murders have soared and city councils are scrambling to undo the harm they predictably helped cause by their foolishness.
What might actually help? We now know that Chauvin had 22 complaints filed against him for inappropriate policing tactics. Yet the union backed him and only once was he disciplined — when it now seems clear he shouldn’t have been a police officer. Had he been fired years ago, George Floyd would likely be alive and Chauvin would likely be making a living in some other field for which he was better suited. Perhaps we should look at how public employee unions blindly protect their membership from accountability. We can also look at police training.
Likewise, we must honestly admit that many police officers every year are killed in action — some execution style. And in many of the police shooting cases, the victim fights and/or pulls a weapon. As a society, we should teach and encourage respect for the police and the law.
Some commentators now frequently claim that people of color are more afraid of police than of a criminal trying to gain access to their home. That makes no sense at all. The data is very clear that the overwhelming majority of gun shot victims in the minority community are at the hands of violent felons, not police officers. If there are people of color who are more afraid of police than criminals, it is because media coverage has repeatedly misrepresented the facts and exaggerated the risks. This in turn is likely to increase the very circumstances that could lead to more tragedies.
Injustice occurs when people do things that unfairly harm others. Some of those things may be relatively small — like being cut off in traffic. And some may be quite significant and even tragic, like George Floyd’s treatment. But in a nation of 330 million people, we will experience or see small injustices every day. And we will likely hear of larger more significant injustices every week or month. That’s just a statistical probability in a large, populous nation.
But we seem to have entered a very unhealthy and irrational sphere of thinking where every time an officer shoots a minority that is proof of a broadly racist society. In fact, it is not only the most frequently repeated explanation in the media, we have gotten to the point where reluctance to accept this explanation is itself viewed as racist. We should examine the facts of each case, not merely assume or presume that race was the deciding issue.
If we assume that every slight and every injustice is racially based, we will become more racially divided. If I assume that when I get cut off on the highway by a person of a different race, that it was racially motivated, I’d be wrong almost all the time. They might have been distracted, or not seen me, or misjudged the space available and speed of traffic. But it’s very unlikely that they saw me and thought, “I’m gonna cut that guy off because I hate him for racial reasons!”
As a nation, let’s strive as Martin Luther King encouraged, to judge each other “by the content of their character” rather than the “color of their skin.” Let’s hold police accountable when they act outside the law. But otherwise, let’s respect and honor the law and the police. And let’s not rush to label every error or misdeed a racially motivated attack. Let’s seek to unify and recognize that despite our differences, virtually every America seeks a just and fair society where freedom and opportunity abound and where individuals who break the law are held accountable in accordance with the law.