The United States faces another great crisis. The video showing the death of George Floyd shook the nation at its core. It was tragic, shocking, and unjust. It was the last straw for a nation split at every issue.
The 46-year old had suffered a cardiac arrest whilst being restrained by police. The situation was examined by experts and declared a homicide. The officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck was subsequently charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
However, the lockdown and the economic collapse accompanying Covid-19 has built a lot of tension within the country and the wrongful killing of a black man sent many into a state of rage. Even a just rage can have dire consequences, with more than 75 cities having seen protests already – many of which quickly turned into riots. Last night, New York saw a wave of looting and violence against the police. People have lost their property, their livelihoods, and for some, their lives. The true purpose of the protests, to ensure justice and equality, seems to have gone by the wayside.
The World is Not Binary
As with every civil conflict, one of the first things to go out of the window is civility. A result of this is the world turning into black and white. Either you support riots, or you support police brutality. Reality, however, does not work that way. The officer responsible is being prosecuted and there are few who would defend his actions. Despite this, the savagery continues in many places. Black neighbourhoods are hit the hardest by the riots that claim to defend them.
If anything, this situation is a show of failure on all sides – failure of the policemen who detained Floyd to prevent a needless death; failure of the president to exert leadership; failure of local authorities to defend their own citizens; and, the moment that the protests turned into riots, a failure of human conscience.
Destroying private property and attacking fellow countrymen does not solve the issues at hand. If anything, it casts a bad light on the original message of support and creates more unnecessary suffering and poverty in an already difficult time. While some public figures make excuses or even cheer for looting and rioting, George’s own family, the ones most hurt by these events, are calling for an end to the needless rampage and for a peaceful path forward to begin instead.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
The protests have by now far outgrown the original cause. They are no longer about George, his family, or even police accountability. The protests have grown into a massive outlet of frustration built up during the pandemic and have taken on a broad political aspect.
What these mass protests show is the true power of narratives. They show what happens when people are told time and time again that all their problems stem from ‘the system’. When they are told that they are hunted, hated, and made to suffer because of some grand design. People are told to hate their own nation because it is inherently evil and corrupt. And when they use this narrative to interpret the facts, their beliefs become real.
The mainstream media will show you every unjust killing and every supposedly racially motivated act. They only look at half a statistic, an anecdote, a story. Anything else gets discarded. What gets shown is what proves the narrative and creates an atmosphere of fear. Truth is not as important as effect. It is not a coincidence that as crime rates drop every year, the crime coverage is increasing.
They cite this and other high-profile cases from years ago as proof of a corrupt system. However, it is only the media who selects the cases they wish to be prominent, making them into an international issue as opposed to a problem of badly trained American police officers or a family tragedy. Solving issues and getting to the root cause of a problem takes time and toil. Misleading individuals is therefore effortless.
You can think twice why they care so deeply when a black man dies by the hand of a white cop but stay completely silent over the immense amount of African-Americans killed by people of their own race or a white man being shot by police in his sleep. When they talk about Black Lives Matter fighting systemic racism, they never mention that the BLM protests and the shootings that started them happened under the leadership of a black president, a black attorney general and a black police chief in predominantly black cities, accompanied by a mostly minority city council. That does not fit the story of a racist system.
Present a disparity, imply racism, and then forge a narrative. If you can’t imagine how someone can simply use selective data to mislead people, think of this – more than 80% of the people arrested for violent crime in the US are men. Does that mean systemic sexism against men? Could there be more to the story? Can we just ascribe this disparity to a nameless, ungraspable evil? Yet the same kind of selective statistics and the same kind of warped logic are used to argue systemic racism against minorities. With things like this, half a story is worse than none.
The media know that people are interested in what is dramatic and outrageous and what stirs their emotions. They play a dangerous game and I don’t think they understand its consequences by continuously misinterpreting facts, creating stories of systemic discrimination, and promoting grievances. These things might sell amongst the people but they also create false visions of reality. They make us focus on the wrong causes and forget the change that needs to be done. Police accountability needs to be solved but it cannot be addressed while we are busy destroying our own neighbourhoods and turning friend into foe. Instead of tackling an issue, we charge at windmills. Instead of improving communities, we loot and pillage. Narratives like this create blind hate and tribal divide that’s waiting to be triggered – a self-fulfilling prophecy we do not want to come true.
Nation of Hope
Despite the best attempts of some people to paint this as a black and white issue, I believe it simply isn’t so. I don’t think the divide goes as deep as we are told. I don’t think we have to choose one evil over another if we just look at the facts, instead of their interpretations.
- The Death of George Floyd was a murder
- Officers involved need to be held accountable
- Some people are good. Some are bad. No matter what group they belong to
- Changes need to be made to ensure things like this do not happen again
- Looting and violence are not about compassion or justice
These are things we should be able to agree on, and I believe that we do – without fighting, without violence, without excuses. We just need to abandon the tribal divide and look for a common ground. There cannot be a single nation if there isn’t a single purpose. This case should not be dismissed but it should also not be used to excuse pointless looting or to exploit people’s emotions to score some political points.
As for the narrative of systemic, all-encompassing racism, the United States has many problems that run deep – but that does not mean they cannot be overcome. It is a nation forever stained by practising slavery in the past. It is also a nation that fought the bloodiest war in its history to end it. It has seen scandals and abuses, poverty and crime – but it has also seen and won great fights for freedom and achieved unforeseen prosperity.
The United States was not founded on slavery or racism. It was founded on the great idea that all men are created equal and free. An idea ahead of its time, that it often failed to live up to. There is no question that the nation has its problems. Many of them in fact. But a bad cop does not mean all cops are bad. A different race does not mean a different goal. There is only one way that the ideals the nation represents can come true for the people of the United States. And that is, if they pursue them together.
Igor Bubeník is an independent writer and commentator. His main expertise is in US politics and policy analysis. He is currently working on his masters degree at the University of Stirling.
Follow Igor’s writing here: https://jackdaw.home.blog/