A loud demand for change
George Floyd did not live an exceptional life, but his death has forced the nation to step up to its claim of freedom, justice and equality for all or democracy fails.
During the Civil Rights era, blacks and their white allies spent years in the courts trying to implement laws against racial discrimination in employment, education, public accommodations and housing. Conservatives are still trying to prevent working-class citizens from easily casting their votes in elections.
Such abuse naturally generated considerable hostility among blacks. However, the emergence of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had an extraordinary capacity to induce aggrieved people to turn away from violence. King said in a 1967 speech, “I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. … Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Unfortunately, after the anguish of the Civil Rights Movement was ameliorated by Rev. King, sympathetic whites decided to be patient for change to develop. They failed to realize that blacks had already waited for justice and equality since the end of legal slavery.
The racists were not overly concerned. Court cases were proceeding at a snail’s pace and the municipal and county police forces effectively replaced the lynch mobs as agents to control the blacks. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 and 1950, 4,084 blacks were lynched in the South.
There are numerous cases of police abuse of blacks. One example that is similar to the issues in the present Minneapolis case concerns a police officer in Charleston, S.C. who gunned down an unarmed black man involved in an alleged traffic violation in 2015. Michael Slager, the former police officer, was charged with second degree murder.
Even though there was a clear video of the shooting event that was taken by a passer-by, with the local jury the prosecutor could not attain a conviction. Rather than face another state trial, Slager chose to plead guilty in a federal violation of civil rights case in exchange for a 20-year sentence. The family of the victim, Walter Scott, approved of this handling of the case.
The police officer who was directly responsible for Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, has now been charged with second-degree murder. This enables Minnesota’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, to charge the three police officers with complicity for failing to intervene to prevent a crime. Ellison was eloquent in his explanation of the difficulty of winning such cases. He pointed out that the jury would not be comprised of people like those who are marching in the street in memory of George Floyd.
Floyd’s young daughter was reported to have said, “My daddy has changed the world!” It is important for those a bit older to understand the change that has occurred. Tens of thousands of young people, black and white, have come out night after night, despite the danger of Covid-19, to protest a police assassination.
For many years there has been pressure from some blacks to strike out to rebel against the abusive treatment in the U.S. The Floyd incident in Minneapolis demonstrates how arrogantly disrespectful of the law are the police who are employed to protect American citizens against violence.
It is time to establish that freedom, justice and equality have real significance in America. Young Americans are ready for rebellion.