George Floyd’s life ended while handcuffed and under the knee of former officer Derek Chauvin, and four other cops stood idly by, taunting him. Someone bravely recorded the murder as Chauvin calmly and smugly looked directly at her, with no care in the world. As life left him, Floyd could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe, officer” and “Mama.” Floyd’s mother passed in 2019.
In under 12 minutes, Floyd joined a list of Black men who have wrongfully died at the hands of the police: Freddie Gray, Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, James Chaney and countless others, including Eric Garner, whose last words, “I cannot breathe,” were also made to his arresting police officers.
As a 57-year-old Black male, I am blessed to have never had a confrontation with the police. Like many, I have received traffic tickets, and the officers were always courteous. However, I have always feared appearing nervous or threatening in any way or coming across as confrontational. Therefore, I kept my hands clearly visible to the officer and made direct eye contact, lest I be perceived in any way as a threat.
Yet, I also recognize that when pulled over, I was wearing a suit and in the suburbs. What about those brothers not in a suit who are pulled over? Suppose I had been wearing jeans and a sweatshirt? Would I have been treated differently? Did the suit save me or was I just lucky?
Most cops are good men and women. But there are bad ones, and they remain a problem. What kind of a person, much less a police officer, would kneel on the neck of a handcuffed person until he dies? Chauvin, whose personnel file includes 18 reports of abusing the very same citizens he took an oath to protect, weighs at least 200 lbs. What crime could Floyd have possibly committed to deserve such treatment? How much of a threat can one be lying face down and handcuffed on the pavement? All of these cops are sons, brothers, fathers and uncles. So were their victims.
Why did none of the Minneapolis officers feel any compassion or basic human instinct as Floyd could barely say, “I can’t breathe,” ask for water, lose his bladder, and cry for his mama? Because to each of these cops, he was nothing but another nigger.
Truthfully, such insensitivity is not limited to white cops. Amazingly, it also includes minorities who have also, no doubt, experienced racism, even from fellow officers. At least one minority cop remained silent as Floyd breathed his last. As Eric Garner was being killed, several Black cops watched.
Recently, I have made it a point, whenever I see a cop, especially a white one, to say, “Thank you, officer, for all you do.” Why? Because It is my prayer that whenever they are in a situation involving another Black person, my simple gesture may force them to see not just another nigger, but someone’s son, daughter, mother or father, before they pull the trigger or kneel on someone’s neck.
No one was surprised by the response of a divisive president to Minneapolis and related protests following George Floyd’s murder. In one tweet, demonstrators were referred to as “THUGS.” In another, he tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” So much for presidential leadership on Minneapolis, or on the COVID-19 pandemic with over 105,000 dead Americans, and 40 million unemployed all under his watch.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” While I do not condone such violence and destruction, I do understand and appreciate the frustration and anger behind it. I can only hope that those protesting will have the same anger when they go to the polls in November. No protest is more powerful than the ballot.
When Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, I suspect it was not his first time doing so. But since he is now under arrest, it will, hopefully, be his last. I say “hopefully” because the sin of racism, too often for Blacks, has carried greater weight in the criminal justice system than live recordings of murders.
Chauvin’s knee was not only on Floyd’s neck, but on the necks of all Black men.
I am blessed to still have my mother, and thank God for all mothers, both alive and deceased. Floyd’s mama, unfortunately, could not save her son. However, each of those cops could have. George Floyd is dead for no reason other than they chose not to. He was just another nigger. Shame on them and an American society that ignores and thereby accepts such behavior.
Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.