Don Rogers: Where to start?
The paroxysms down the hill in the state capital, across the country and around the world show how far we have to go.
How far we’ve come? Sure, we can look at that. Segregation in buses and bathrooms and drinking fountains and lots of other stuff ended in the ’60s. Lynchings mostly had played out by the ‘50s. Outright slavery 90 or so years before that.
In this bright new millennium, a black man could be re-elected president, and history will reflect well on him, just watch.
But Jim Crow’s heart yet beats, even all the way up in Minneapolis. Minneapolis? Home of “Prairie Home Companion”? Really?
Oh yeah. George Floyd is among a handful of unarmed black men in recent years to die in Minneapolis police custody, and not the first to be choked to death. Reform has planted shallow roots there. The officer charged with murdering Floyd has 18 prior police misconduct complaints filed against him. A police union leader was called out in a lawsuit over a white power patch he wore openly on his motorcycle jacket.
Trotting out the reliable tropes about a few bad apples has grown old. Yes, the few bad cops out are a real problem. Deeper, though, is how they remain so long in the barrel. The repeat of killings like this — frequently on video — shows something continues to run awry. A message isn’t getting through.
True enough, the most awful means to make a point has played out in downtowns across the country: wrongdoing to fight wrongdoing, violence begetting violence, fire and ruin to combat an ongoing institutional crime against humanity.
But peaceful demonstration, that’s as traditionally American as it gets, something to be protected. The sheriff in Flint, Michigan, and the police chief in Denver who walked with protesters and eased tensions hint at a better way forward.
Another anecdote spoke volumes, though: The U.S. attorney general ordered peaceful demonstrators cleared out forcefully — flash grenades, chemical spray, night sticks — so a president could strut like a general on conquered ground 15 minutes later to a church down the street. Why? No reason, really, mostly to show he could.
Another, more inspiring moment closer to home: Up to 1,500 Truckee residents by some counts lined the main drag downtown earlier this week in a quiet vigil for Floyd and other lives lost.
Chambers of commerce across the country came out with statements deploring the death, the violence and urged kindness, as have many other organizations likewise without a direct connection to what culminated in Minneapolis on May 25.
It does feel like something has changed, that this is not just another echo in our supposedly post-racist America since the race riots of the 1960s and centered ever more on police killings of black men.
Maybe disgust has gone viral at last. In a way that won’t be masked with new task forces, policies, some surface legislation signed with bureaucratic gusto, but nothing much reaching the street, where bad apple cops continue getting hand slaps over outdated choke-holds, the majority population pretends the root cause of cities burning doesn’t exist anymore, where unarmed men and women continue being killed in the custody of the very people who should be our finest and always get away with it.
Police work is tough, and the demands on the people who take up this profession are high, no question. Nonetheless, there’s clearly another step or two or three to take. Listening to the black community, more steps than that, and extending far outside the police forces.
Now seems like a good time to quit remarking on the progress we’ve made as a nation, how white people have come so far in racial understanding and, ahem, tolerance, a word people who think themselves superior use without thought.
Ask the people in downtowns across the country cleaning up the morning after about progress. Or whether this is the fault of locals, outsiders, antifa, white supremacists. That’s all beside the point.
Since he began in 2017, the Minneapolis police chief, a black man, has sought to reform what some call among the worst of big city law enforcement agencies. Obviously, he hasn’t made much headway, at least not yet. But he wasted little time firing the officers involved, if a day too late for George Floyd and his family. Criminal charges were filed in the days since.
This feels a little different, too, these wagons not being circled, maybe wrongs starting to be righted.
And sure, wrongs may need to be righted. But first, we need to stop committing the wrongs. What happened to George Floyd was just wrong. Let’s make him the last to die this way. How about we start there?
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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