I’ve been struggling to come up with a blog entry for about a week now, trying to decide what I could or should say about the death of George Floyd. For starters, I will point out the obvious. Watching the video is physically sickening. The video is one of the most awful, gut wrenching things I’ve ever watched. It’s a murder, committed over a span of nearly ten minutes, complete with the victim begging for his life. The most similar experience I can register in my lifetime was when I watched Passion of the Christ. I’m even struck by the parallels between the last words “I thirst”, “I can’t breathe”. That’s the closest emotional equivalency for me, but this was not a reenactment of ancient history, but a recent event, a poignant reminder that no matter how much we advance in technology, our human failings remain. And it was so senseless, so needless. How can a person, a police officer, be so indifferent to suffering, that he can listen to a victim begging for his life, and yet not even care enough to remove his knee from the victim’s neck. It makes me angry, so angry I wanted to jump through the screen and tackle the policeman. I wished someone, anyone, would intervene. I would like to think that if I ever witnessed something similar, I would at least try to intervene. It’s hard to say what one would do in hypothetical situations where courage is required, though. Would the bystander effect have taken hold. Would the uniform and a fear reaction deterred me? I don’t know, but it probably wouldn’t have done any good, with three other officers basically standing guard watching it happen. Maybe that sounds silly, and it probably is silly, but those were my honest thoughts. I can honestly say I hate that policeman, and hate is a word I do not use lightly. Whatever he gets, it’s probably better than what he deserves.
This visceral reaction makes it difficult to put my experience into words. I’ve always been more comfortable talking and writing in the realm of thoughts and ideas, where words have precise meanings and I can be thorough and exactingly accurate. Feelings, rather, are comparatively untidy, blurry things, defying precise understanding. Perhaps that’s why I rarely speak about my feelings. Indeed, most people would describe me as an exceptionally detached and dispassionate individual, in keeping with the stereotype of Asperger’s. In fact, it has been theorized by some that people with Asperger’s lack empathy. I can’t speak for others of course, but based on what I’ve read and learned, I would say it’s more accurate to say we don’t experience empathy in the same way as others and we don’t express our feelings as visibly as most others. My emotional experiences are intense, but usually private. My personal, unscientific theory is that my emotional reactions are more powerful than others, and because of that, I learned from a very young age to suppress most of it so I’m not a crying mess all the time, and that this suppression of emotion is the cause of many of my other psychological problems. I still have vague memories from my early youth of going to the verge of tears when someone stepped on a bug. It’s harder to get to me these days. It takes something powerful to generate an emotional response in me anymore, and the Floyd video has such power. It has such power that it demands a response, even from me, and something beyond the intellectual musings I usually offer. There is only so much that can be endured before it is too much, and this is too much, too much for any of us. It has to stop.
I can relate, therefore, to the protesters, even the ones breaking windows and looting stores. That’s how angry the video made me personally. I’m inclined to forgive crimes against property. I was raised to believe, and still believe, that there is a profound gap between crimes against property and those against people. What is a few broken windows or stolen TVs against a man’s life or against systemic oppression. People are more important than things, more important than money. Things can be replaced, but lives cannot. I lament the loss of small business owners who lose their livelihood and dreams when their business, burns. Many of them are minorities themselves, and many serve precisely the underprivileged neighborhoods where protesters live. That, however, is where my sympathy ends. I frankly do not give a shit how much stuff is stolen from the corporate stores. Let it burn, I say. If we looted every Wal-Mart in America, it would barely put a dent in what they owe to this nation. They would still have a long way to go before they paid for the full impact of their cheap merchandise, low inventory, underpaid employees, tax evading world. It’s not hard, honestly, to follow the money from massive retailers to overpolicing. George Floyd’s alleged crime, passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. Ahmaud Arbery’s crime, selling individual cigarettes in violation of local ordinance. Breonna Taylor didn’t even commit a crime, but happened to be present when police officers broke into an apartment looking for drug sellers. So there it is. Drug sales and trivial property crimes. Is this worth civilian lives, or the lives of police officers. I’m okay with spending whatever it takes to catch murderers and rapists, but to have people dying over trivial crimes is just absurd to me.
You may notice I’ve written quite a bit without speaking about race or racism. The main reason for that is I don’t think I’m properly qualified. First, is my Asperger’s. Collective, social concepts like race are difficult for me to fathom, and always have been. When I first learned about it in school, I remember thinking how utterly stupid and counterproductive this thinking is and wondering why anybody would ever behave this way. It has always seemed an absurd and rather hollow concept for me, and I think that’s because I don’t sort myself into this or that social group and then tie my group affiliation to my self worth in the same way that I gather ‘normal’ people do. That’s probably related to my Asperger’s, yet race always struck me as egregiously pointless. Some social concepts, like nationality or religion, make a certain amount of sense. After all, people from different religions have different and sometimes contradictory beliefs, and nations have always struggled against one another for resources and influence, all the way back to when humans had tribes and clans instead of nations. By contrast, race seemed to be just a way for groups of people to discriminate against each other using an unimportant and arbitrary physical trait that has nothing to do with anything. There is more difference between breeds of dog than races of humanity, genetically speaking, so there is no basis for distinguishing between races. That has always been my thoughts on the subject, and since youth, I have viewed people with overt racist beliefs as the lowest common denominator of idiot and people to be avoided as a general rule.
Secondly, as a white person, I don’t really have to suffer the effects of systemic racism. As a member of a majority group, however involuntarily, I don’t get the short end of the racism stick. The effects of racism usually fall upon whatever group is in the minority, although there are a few examples in ancient history when the opposite has happened. I can’t speak to what minority communities experience. As a white person, I can’t really truly experience racism in the same way an African American could, even if I were ‘normal’. Social science even has suggested that a lot of racism occurs at a subconscious level and thus, I may be saying and doing racist things I’m not aware of. This would actually not surprise me at all as I often run afoul of ordinary social convention without intending to, even as an adult. Since my youth, I’ve often been guilty of saying inappropriate things simply because I have no built in social compass. What I do have is learned from years of practice, and my success is predicated on remaining mostly quiet in social situations. I often wonder how many times growing up, I might have offended my African American friends without realizing it. I also wonder whether they didn’t say anything because of how prevalent racism is in society. I feel doubly unqualified to say much about race, yet one cannot discuss George Floyd without acknowledging how race plays a role in policing.
What, then, should we do now, is the question? I think, for starters, it is incumbent upon us white folks, first and foremost, to listen to the voices of the protesters, particularly African Americans. We white folks probably won’t ever really ‘get’ racism, so we should listen to the people who suffer from it. Instead of suggesting our own solutions, let’s listen to our minority communities. Let’s listen to their ideas for how to change police and policing. Let’s put minority leaders in positions of authority and give them control over how and how much their neighborhoods are policed. I’m always in favor of more local control and this is no exception. Let’s put people in control of their neighborhoods, down to the street level, and let’s give them the authority. Let’s stop talking and start listening. Let’s listen to the voices crying out in protest, and let’s help them find new ways forward. Until I saw the video, I didn’t realize it was this bad, and I feel like anything I say will fall short of what’s necessary, so I’ll leave it to more qualified voices to decide what changes are necessary.
All I can say with conviction is that our leaders have failed catastrophically and completely during most of my lifetime. Too much power wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few who seem woefully unequal to the task. As citizens, we must hold our leaders accountable for their failures. That’s what protests are about. That’s what riots are about. They are about power, who has it, and who doesn’t. At bottom, widespread protests and riots are about reminding people in power that their power requires our consent. There is nothing more American than getting in the streets and demanding change from our government and accountability from our leaders. The right to assemble and petition the government is part of our constitution, the first amendment. Nationwide protests, even to the point of rioting, are both good and necessary. So long as they are not engaged in physical violence against other human beings, so long as their ‘crimes’ consist of broken windows and stolen stuff, I will never have a critical word for protesters. Target can replace their broken windows and stolen inventory. Nobody can give George Floyd back his life. Protests, riots, can be ugly and chaotic, but they are a necessary part of the democratic process. The murder of George Floyd shows what’s wrong with our country. The following two weeks, the protesters in the streets, average people of all colors, creeds, backgrounds, rising up to demand change, gathering despite the risk of coronavirus to address the wrongs of our nation. That’s something to celebrate. That gives me hope, because it tells me that people still value life, and want to do what’s right, even if sometimes our leaders don’t seem to care about anything but GDP growth and stock prices. I’ve written before, and maintain here again, that we’re a lot less divided than the media would have us believe. The real divide is between the elites that run this country and the average people, black, white, and otherwise, who live there. I grew up in a mostly white county in Kentucky, where I still live, and we even had a protest here in Benton Kentucky. I don’t see much overt racism here, and I’m not sure I would recognize it if I did given my limitations, but the county has a reputation in the area as being a hotbed of racism. Still, we even had a Black Lives Matter protest here. Here’s a link.
It was only a hundred or so people, but given the population of the county could fill less than half the seats in an NFL stadium, that’s something at least. The police blocked off the court square and everybody stayed peaceful. If most of us agree that Black Lives Matter, even in the land of guns, good ole boys, and confederate flag waving idiots, there’s hope for us yet.