I wrote Betrayal in Black to provide readers a front-row glimpse into the senselessness of cop on black shootings. In the novel, inconsistent officer commands and cop/citizen communication issues led to the tragedy. I thought that shooting an innocent black man during a routine traffic stop was as senseless as we can get in this country. Then, I saw the George Floyd video.
A man who swore an oath to "protect and serve" kneeled on a human being's neck for almost nine minutes until he choked the life out of him. At issue was the possibility that Mr. Floyd may have knowingly or unknowingly passed a counterfeit $20.00 bill. How many of us would have gladly reached into our pockets to pay for the goods that were the subject of this (possible, yet to be proven) petty crime if doing so would have persuaded Officer Derek Chauvin to remove his knee? Three other officers either participated and/or looked on without doing anything to assist Mr. Floyd. In this writer's opinion, all participants should be charged with 2nd Degree murder, because that is what this was.
This incident is vastly different than its senseless predecessors. A shooting occurs when the person with the gun makes a spur of the moment decision to protect himself or herself and/or others (rightly or wrongly) from a perceived threat. Power dynamics, racism, bigotry, or pre-conceived notions of criminality may enter into these spur-of-the-moment decisions. Still, they happen in an instant—a snap judgment that results in tragedy.
In this case, there was no snap judgment or spur-of-the-moment decision making. Derek Chauvin had nearly 8 minutes to consider and reconsider his actions and their deadly consequences. He choked the life out of George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly 8 minutes, despite Floyd's pleas and the pleas of citizens who witnessed the incident. The three other officers were eager participants or indifferent and inactive onlookers. According to news reports, Mr. Floyd was unresponsive in slightly less than 6 minutes—perhaps he might have lived if Chauvin had lifted his knee at some earlier point in time. There was no "snap" here—this was a cold, calculated, and deliberate murder. Chauvin and his partners should be charged and brought to trial for, at the very least, 2nd Degree Murder.
This is a pivotal moment in American history. The shooting incidents I mentioned sparked an outcry and, subsequently, the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Reaction was strong and overwhelmingly supportive of the movement, but I have never seen anything like what is happening in America today. Mass protests are taking place in city after city, from coast to coast, over the brutal murder of George Floyd. Perhaps the incident and its aftermath will have the civil rights impact of the protests of the 1960s that led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Perhaps we are witnessing a nation-changing historical event before our very eyes. Perhaps this event will finally cause police departments to change attitudes and actions toward people of color. Perhaps . . . We can only wait and see.
In a democratic, civil society, people must vent their frustrations, and peaceful protest is great. The 1st Amendment is the most important tool in a protestor's arsenal. Over the past few days, we have demonstrated that the 1st Amendment is alive and well on the city streets of America. However, if we want meaningful change, while we are walking and crying in protest, I recommend a walk into the nearest Secretary of State office or voter registration center. Register to vote.
One of my favorite President Obama quotes consists of three simple but powerful words of advice.
"Don't boo . . .vote!
I am not telling anyone to stop protesting. I am, however, suggesting that you pause your protest to register to vote in November because we cannot succeed as a country in our current and divisive atmosphere. We need real change in this country. My friends, real change is in the hands of the voters.