First Published at Slow to Write on May 30, 2020 by Samuel Sey
A group of police officers recently responded to a 911 call. When they arrived at the scene, they placed a man in handcuffs, they pinned his body face down to the ground, and they pressed on his neck.
The man cried in agony for several minutes. He begged for help more than 30 times. He told the police officers they were killing him. But they ignored him, and he died.
The police officers claimed the man was combative and physically resisted arrest. But videos of the incident contradict their claims, and the police officers were subsequently charged for killing the man.
People with the man’s skin colour get killed by police officers more often than any other group of people in America every year. The man’s name is Tony Timpa—a white man killed by police officers in 2016.
The injustice he suffered is nearly identical to George Floyd’s horrific murder—except, he’s not black.
I’m sure you didn’t know his name until now. His name didn’t trend on social media. The injustice against him didn’t receive significant national and international attention. His skin colour was inconvenient. His skin colour didn’t give white people an opportunity to practice their righteousness before others to gain their attention and their approval. And his skin colour didn’t produce rhetoric that incites riots.
Have you noticed police brutality against White people—the most common victims of police brutality—do not create riots? Have you noticed all the riots over police killings in America over the last decade involved perceived anti-Black racism?
That’s because police brutality doesn’t create riots. Perceived racist police brutality create riots.
That’s why it’s disturbing to see many people—especially influential Christians—reacting so carelessly and so selfishly to George Floyd’s murder.
After Ahmaud Arbery’s killing earlier this month, I said: “Injustices against black men are not synonymous with racist injustices against black men. And if we react to these injustices in a careless and slanderous manner, we’re not just guilty of sin, but we’re also guilty of contributing to the divisions, tensions, and anxieties in our society.”
Predictably, our careless reactions to George Floyd’s murder have contributed to the divisions, tensions, anxieties, and indeed—riots we see in America today. Careless reactions produce careless actions.
In America, White men in blue uniforms have a long history of murdering men in black skin. In fact, during segregation, many black Americans were more afraid of White men in blue uniforms than white men in white uniforms.
But just as people shouldn’t perceive every Black man as a thug, we shouldn’t perceive every white police officer—including murderous police officers—as racist either. Maybe, the white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck because he’s a racist. Or maybe he isn’t a racist—maybe he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck because just like the police officers who killed Tony Timpa, he’s just a horrible, deadly police officer.
It’s unhealthy and unhelpful to suggest Floyd was a victim of racism. We do not have the evidence to support that. America’s history of racist police brutality isn’t evidence of racism in this incident. And Derek Chauvin’s skin colour and Floyd’s skin colour aren’t evidence of racism either.
That kind of reasoning is destructive. And it stokes the kind of fires destroying many people and many properties in America right now. After all, sin always produces more sin. Careless and murderous police officers instigated careless and destructive reactions from social media and the mainstream media—which incited careless and destructive actions in Minneapolis and across America.
And now four days after George Floyd’s murder, he seems like a distant afterthought. His family’s wishes for peaceful protests are being ignored. The riots and looting even overshadowed the news of Derek Chauvin’s arrest yesterday. It doesn’t seem like many people are mourning his death anymore. People are using his name to steal from their neighbours or shame others. Opportunists have capitalized on his death—using his murder for material and political gain.
And if we all focused on his humanity—instead of his skin colour—after his murder, there wouldn’t be riots across America today, and people would unite to remember him as a person—not a poster boy for a political agenda.