A COUNTRY IN CRISIS
George Floyd Is Just One Victim
Floyd is only one victim of institutionalized racism and police brutality. How many others have been victimized beyond the reach of cameras?
“We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
- Donald Trump
Only in Donald Trump’s America can news of a 13.3% unemployment rate, “on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression”, be considered cause for celebration. But with “nearly 7-in-10 voters [saying that] things in the U.S. are pretty seriously on the wrong track”, Trump was desperate to highlight a positive. With thousands protesting in the streets and a pandemic that continues to claim about 1,000 American lives per day, he tried to put a positive spin on a devastating jobs report. After losing 20.5 million jobs in the previous month he assembled the press and the White House and bragged about the success of bringing 2.5 million (12%) of those jobs back.
To make his victory dance even stranger, Trump unexpectedly dragged the name of George Floyd into the conversation, claiming that this economic news would make it a “great day” for the man murdered at the hands of the police. Had Floyd not been given the death penalty without a trial for allegedly buying groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill, the day probably would have not been one filled with celebration. At the time of his death, he was still among the millions rendered unemployed by the pandemic that Trump ignored until it was too late. While the report that the president was celebrating showed that the unemployment rate for white workers showed “a decline of nearly two percentage points”, the black unemployment rate actually rose slightly. So much for the “great, great day in terms of equality” that Trump was hawking.
The fact that Trump would ignore his own failures while trying to appropriate the death of Floyd for his own political gain should not be surprising. While he would like the American electorate to think that he has “done more for Black Americans…than any President in U.S. history, with the possible exception of…the late, great, Abraham Lincoln”, he has consistently failed to address the systematic racism that led to the death of Floyd. Instead, he has often taken the opportunity to co-opt the message of those seeking reform and justice.
-Donald Trump about NFL athletes kneeling in protest
As the practice of professional athletes peacefully kneeling in protest during the national anthem spread during the beginning of the Trump presidency, the issue of racism and police brutality was given a national platform. However, instead of addressing the concerns of the players, the president purposely misrepresented their actions as disrespect for the military and those who served. While now claiming to support peaceful protest, he used to his bully pulpit to help bring an end to these actions. Even now as the nation struggles with the issue of racism, Trump has revisited the issue, not to atone for his mistakes but to double down on his divisive rhetoric: “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!”
As protests enter their third week, Trump has used the same type of strategy to distract from the message that the protesters are presenting to their leaders. While thousands are engaged in actions protected by the First Amendment, the president and his supporters have focused on the minority engaged in looting and other illegal behavior who “were overwhelmingly local residents taking advantage of the chaos.” Without evidence, Trump has accused ANTIFA of perpetrating violence and has said that he will designate this “group” as a terrorist organization. He has yet to condemn the right-wing, white supremacists arrested in Las Vegas in possession of Molotov cocktails in an alleged plot “to cause destruction during protests in Las Vegas”. While Trump had no problem finding “fine” people in a group of white supremacists, he has given the blanket label of “thugs” to all of the people protesting outside the White House.
The one message that Trump does seem to have heard from the protesters is that Joe Biden’s crime bill has contributed to the police state mentality that many Americans find themselves living under. This combined with institutional racism has created the powder keg that the country now finds itself sitting upon. However, any points that this criticism scored against his November opponent was negated by Trump directing the military and federal police agencies to act against peaceful protesters so that he could walk out of his White House bunker and hold a bible in front of a church that did not welcome his visit. A president that insists upon dominating peaceful protesters, hides in a bunker rather than hearing their complaints and describes himself as the Law and Order President is catering to the same forces that called for Biden’s crime bill.
Perhaps sensing their diminishing prospects in November, Trump’s loyalists have now taken to attacking Floyd himself. Racial provocateur Candace Owens says that “we should not be honoring #GeorgeFloyd” and refers to him as the “bottom denominator of society”. She claims that he was high and had drugs on him at the time of his “arrest” and then reads his rap sheet. Apparently, that means that society should not be angry that a police officer sat on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, two of them after his partner failed to find a pulse. In her view, the only reason that black people have so many interactions with the police is that they commit more crimes. She stops there without asking why this is so. Asking this question would require her to confront the systematic racism that she denies including the inequality written into the law, the inequality in the way that the law is applied, and the diminished opportunities available in minority communities.
Owens is correct about one thing: George Floyd was not a hero or a martyr. Being either of these things would imply that Floyd chose his fate. Nothing he did on the day of his murder or in his past put him in a position where he should have been killed by those who are supposed to protect and serve.
The more accurate term for Floyd is “victim.” He is only one in a country who can list too many. Like Rodney King, the only aberration about his case is the fact that it was caught on camera. He, therefore, gets the unfortunate honor of representing the need for change. No matter the final results, I’m sure that he and his family would rather that he had been able to return home from a Memorial Day trip to the grocery store.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.