In his poem “No Man is an Island,” John Donne wrote, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” I’ve always been involved in humanitarian issues and the universality of justice.
This past week has been exceptionally difficult for me and anyone else with even an iota of human compassion. Two unnecessary Black male murders have recently monopolized our airwaves, and will be the topic of discussion for the foreseeable future. The current social turmoil pushes me to the limits of my endurance.
On Sunday, May 24, readers of The New York Times were greeted with a front page listing the names of 1,000 COVID-19 victims. Following was the announcement that the U.S. had surpassed the unwelcome milestone of 100,000 deaths. While the numbers are shocking and heart-rending, I’m sure some were woefully desensitized to the full scope of loss from COVID-19.
To put these COVID-19 numbers into perspective, a comparison to the Vietnam War isn’t unreasonable. By official measure, the number of American deaths in Vietnam is 58,220. That number was matched and surpassed in late April for COVID-19 deaths. Reaching the 100,000 milestone signifies a point of nearly doubling the loss of life in Vietnam. The greater tragedy is that it took U.S. forces 19 years in Vietnam to reach 58,000. We’ve nearly doubled that number in three months!
Arguably, had the Trump administration begun efforts to combat this virus one week earlier, the loss of life could have been reduced by 36,000. Instead, we add those names to the list of those we’ve lost. Although not lost to COVID-19, one other name MUST recently be added to those we have lost: George Floyd.
By now, most Americans have seen the video of Mr. Floyd being suffocated by a police officer. The officer applied near-total force of his body to Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes. During that time, Mr. Floyd repeatedly begged for mercy and, probably from past life lessons, remained respectful to the police. Mr. Floyd even addressed his assailant as “Sir.” In an MSNBC interview, Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr. described this problem as one of African Americans having to live under the “trauma” of coronavirus and the “terrorism” of lawless policing.
Those who have lost relatives or friends to the coronavirus, or even had relatives or friends contract the disease, understand the trauma and uncertainty of living under the threat of the disease. There is genuine trauma in wondering, “Who’s next?” or “How can I avoid it?”
If one cannot understand the terrorism that Professor Glaude describes, imagine being apprehended, tried and executed by a rogue police officer. Backing-up from George Floyd on the ground and begging for mercy, we learn of the initial allegation that brought Mr. Floyd and the police in contact. A store owner called the police with an allegation of passing counterfeit currency. Whether he attempted to pass bogus money or not, there is no charge of counterfeiting that results in execution.
George Floyd joins Eric Garner, choked for selling single cigarettes; Ahmaud Arbery, killed for jogging; Tamir Rice, killed for playing as a 12-year-old child would; Trayvon Martin, killed for walking home wearing a hoodie and eating Skittles; Emmett Till, killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman; and on and on.
George Floyd endured suffocation AND ridicule to the point of his death. These killings are the result of ideation that denies the humanity of the victims. They cannot be excused because of mental illness. They are deluded expressions of superiority and control over selected victims. This MUST stop! We need no more names on this list!
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.