It was almost 5 years ago that I wrote a post on this site related to the arrest and death of Sandra Bland: https://bigjolly.com/simple-traffic-stop-call-action/. That post sparked some interesting discussions in the comments to this site, on Facebook and other sites, face-to-face, and even led the Dallas Morning News to reprint a version in its online and print editions, which led to further comments. But soon afterwards, we all moved on.
Now, I again offer my condolences to another family—the family of George Floyd—who are left grieving after a tragedy that should not have happened.
As I’ve watched and listened to all that has transpired over the last week after the death of George Floyd, I sadly realize that very little has changed over the last 5 years, and that the same raw feelings that were aroused by the traffic stop, and its aftermath, in Waller County in 2015 have continued to boil just beneath the surface of our society. Now a lot of steam is escaping and many of us are left wondering, again, how we got here and how we will move forward.
Whatever might have justified the police officers’ original detention of George Floyd, nothing justified the actions taken by those officers after he was subdued. For some reason we may never know, any mercy for the neighbor those officers had in their custody slipped away during the 8-plus minutes caught on video. As we all watched the video with a degree of horror, it reinforced the fear and distrust that so many of our African-American neighbors have about the way they are perceived and treated by the rest of their fellow citizens. Although none of the looting and violence that followed is justified, the protests are justified; and the conversations they are sparking are long overdue and must continue.
Today, I am left with the same observation I made 5 years ago, but now with a sense of even greater urgency:
… It is a national tragedy that so many of our neighbors wake each morning believing that their countrymen don’t think they matter, and wondering whether they will live through that day. In fact, it is not just a tragedy—I agree with some of the leaders of #BlackLivesMatter movement when they call the current situation a “state of emergency.” …
Remember, if we truly believe in a limited federal government and in the power of families, the private sector and local governments to address most issues, our neighbors must trust each other and their local governments. That trust starts with each of us recognizing and protecting the humanity of all our neighbors, every day, in every situation. …
A progressive tide of politics has swept over the Democratic Party over the last 5 years since I made that observation, as has a populist tide washed over the Republican Party. The disunity fueled by these often opposite movements appears to have worsened recently in reaction to the deaths, lockdowns and economic hardships caused by the unexpected emergence of COVID-19. Now, in this context of disunity, history forces us also to confront what we failed to confront 5 years ago, let alone 50 or 100 years ago.
Frankly, I don’t know what mix of private and public action is needed at this time to address the fundamental issues raised by George Floyd’s death, or whether any mix of proposals would be acceptable right now to a majority of our politicians, let alone our citizens. So, I am left, for now, with a suggestion as to how to start the conversation.
Because this issue is so fraught with emotion, and opens such deep wounds for our society, maybe it is best to start with a proposition from those Founding Fathers who published the Virginia Declaration of Rights a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence:
… it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
Or, as simply stated in the Gospel According to Matthew:
Do to men what you wish men do to you.
If these ideals for humane, compassionate action (shared, in one way or another, by most societies and religions in human history) guide our approach, I am confident we eventually will find our way through the current disunity and begin to address, once and for all, the distrust at the core of our current discontent with appropriate actions that retain the best of our society’s ideals, institutions, and traditions, while guiding us all to a better future.
Again, I have no idea what answers we will find along this journey, and, because of our ancestors’ failure to properly address this problem, we are left with few guideposts to follow. But I know we all must now take this journey in order for our society, and its ideals and promises, to endure. History will not be kind to us if we try to wait another 5 (or 50, or 100) years to start this journey.