Minneapolis resembles a third world country this Friday morning. As fires burned and the city devolved into anarchy, residents watched Minneapolis police officers and firefighters stand down as looters and rioters took control of the city.
Still, former President Barack Obama proved he’s never forgotten the famous words of his first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
So, pen in hand, he took the opportunity to write “My statement on the death of George Floyd.”
I want to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota.
The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman.
Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The “knee on the neck” is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.
Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling.
The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s shared by me and millions of others.
It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.
This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America. It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.
It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.
Here’s Obama pulling out one of those straw men he’s grown so fond of over the years. George Floyd’s death was anything but normal. Most Americans were shocked over it, including President Trump and AG Barr. To imply otherwise is disingenuous.
Unfortunately, what has become “normal” is the level of black on black violence that takes place over a typical weekend in U.S. cities such as Chicago or Baltimore, most of which have been run by Democrats for decades.
I believe that the racial divisions in America were far deeper at the end of Obama’s presidency than when he took office. His administration’s focus on identity politics and class division did much to fan the flames of racial tension.
White cops using excess force on black suspects is not something unique to Trump’s presidency as Obama implies. These incidents happened with alarming frequency during Obama’s presidency, particularly in the latter part of it. Here are several of them (via CBC):
Eric Garner, 43, died in July 2014 in New York City after a white officer placed him in a chokehold during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes.
Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was fatally shot by a white officer, Darren Wilson, in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Rookie New York City police officer Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter last year in the November 2014 death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley.
Tamir Rice, 12, was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer in a recreational area in November 2014. Officers were responding to a report of a man waving a gun.
Former Tulsa County volunteer sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates, 74, was sentenced in 2016 to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the April 2, 2015 death of Eric Harris, 44, who was unarmed and restrained.
Former North Charleston, S.C., patrolman Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott, 50.
Former Portsmouth, Va., police officer Stephen Rankin was sentenced last October to two and a half years in prison for fatally shooting William Chapman II while responding to a shoplifting call outside a Walmart on April 22, 2015.
Jeremy McDole, 28, was sitting in his wheelchair when he was shot and killed in September 2015 in Wilmington, Del., after police received a 911 call about a man with a gun.
Jamar Clark’s November 2015 shooting death sparked weeks of protests in Minneapolis, Minn. Two white officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were trying to arrest the 24-year-old when he was shot once in the head. He died a day later.
Alton Sterling, 37, was shot to death on July 5, 2016, as the officers pinned him to the pavement outside a convenience store where he had been selling CDs.
An Oklahoma jury in May found white Tulsa police officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the 2016 death of Terence Crutcher, 40, who was shot shortly after Shelby arrived to find Crutcher’s SUV stopped in the middle of the road.
A judge in July dismissed charges against Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati officer who fatally shot Sam DuBose, an unarmed black motorist, during a 2015 traffic stop.
Six Baltimore officers were involved in the arrest and in-custody death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after being injured in a Baltimore police van, touching off weeks of protest.
Rather than trying to calm the riots that are now spreading across the country, as an elder statesman might, Obama’s statement merely stirred up anger and exacerbated the situation.
Where was Obama’s “statement on the death of Justine Damond”? Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American Minneapolis Police Department officer. Damond had called 9-1-1 to report what sounded like a woman being assaulted in an alley near her home.
Where was his outrage after Jussie Smollett’s “hate crime” turned out to be a hoax?
I really think Obama should have sat this one out.
My statement on the death of George Floyd: pic.twitter.com/Hg1k9JHT6R
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 29, 2020