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You can’t fight injustice with more injustice

George Floyd died for several reasons. The first was that he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. This is why the police showed up to arrest him. The second reason is that Mr Floyd is alleged to have resisted arrest. Firstly, he resisted being handcuffed and then when he was moved towards the police car, he said that he was claustrophobic, then he intentionally fell to the ground and refused to get to his feet. If he had just got into the police car we would never have learned about this story.

At some point Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck. He kept it there even when Floyd said that he couldn’t breathe. This behaviour was clearly disgraceful. No one should be held down in this way under any circumstances. It would appear obvious that Chauvin committed at the very least manslaughter. He ought to go to jail.

Did Chauvin intend to kill Floyd? We will find out at his trial. But it is unlikely that he did. He didn’t set out to lose his job and go to jail.  The reason that he recklessly put his knee on Floyd’s neck was because Floyd had resisted arrest. If Floyd had gone into the police car willingly Chauvin would not have killed him.

Why didn’t Chauvin let Floyd up when Floyd said that he couldn’t breathe? The most likely explanation is that Chauvin did not believe Floyd. Chauvin assumed falsely that because Floyd could talk, he could also breathe.

Floyd did not deserve to die. He may or may not have committed a minor offence. The police officers failed in their duty of care to a suspect. Each of them deserved to lose his job for not intervening when Chauvin strangled a man who had been convicted of nothing. Chauvin behaved brutally and stupidly. He may not have intended to kill anyone, but his behaviour was reckless and cruel and deserves to be punished to the full extent that the law allows.

I should never have heard about this case let alone write about it. The reason I am doing so is that since Floyd’s tragic and unnecessary death there have been riots across the United States and demonstrations that have spread to Britain.

We are fortunate in Britain that we have reasonably good race relations far better than in the United States. I cannot think of a similar example of a British police officer behaving in this fashion. It therefore is perverse to demonstrate about a death in Minnesota, when we do not demonstrate about unjust deaths inflicted by the police on innocent citizens when they happen in countries like China. Is it that the demonstrators think that Chinese lives don’t matter, or is it simply that they are unable to watch Chinese television news?

How many people will die because George Floyd was unjustly killed. The riots in the United States have already cost a number of lives they have also led to people who might be infected with Covid mingling with other people. The same sort of mingling also happened in Trafalgar Square. Thousands of other innocent people have been terrorised by the violence in the United States and a great deal of property has been destroyed. We need to ask if this behaviour helps or hinders the situation. I believe it makes it more likely that there will be another George Floyd.

There is something approaching a race war in the United States. It began when the first slaves were taken from Africa. It looked briefly as if there would be peace when Martin Luther King spoke about his dream, but the dream was unfulfilled and if anything, the nightmare has got worse.

There is a vicious circle. White police officers appear frequently to believe that black people are dangerous and violent criminals. One of the reasons why they believe this is that too frequently their prejudices are confirmed by the behaviour they meet while doing their jobs. Too many black people in the United States are involved in violent crime. Too many murder other black people, just as too many are killed by the police.

Because black neighbourhoods are frequently violent, everyone who is not black leaves. Americans from different ethnic groups too frequently lead separate lives which further leads to misunderstanding and lack of trust.

But the actions of the past few days have reinforced the prejudice rather than helped eliminate it.

There is no justification whatsoever to go on a violent rampage in a city hundreds of miles away from Minneapolis. If George Floyd did because the police officers thought he was likely to be a violent criminal who might be a threat to them, the violence of the rioters overwhelmingly reinforces this stereotype.

Millions of Americans will be watching, and they will not be more likely to walk through nearby black neighbourhoods, they will decide never to go anywhere near them.

To end the vicious circle, it is necessary to judge each individual as an individual. Those police officers who have committed crimes must be convicted. Black suspects like any other suspect must be treated with respect and as innocent until proven guilty. But it is as unjust to condemn all white police officers or indeed all white people for the crime committed by one person in Minnesota as it was for those police officers to judge George Floyd because all they could see was his skin colour.

The way forward is for each of us to look at our own behaviour and to condemn all violent death equally.

The rioters would not be rioting if a black policeman had unjustly killed a white man or if a black man had murdered anyone else. Do those lives not matter? You cannot undo prejudice by prejudice. The slogan “Black lives matter”, suggests that the lives of everyone else don’t matter much to black people. But it invites the response “if you don’t care about my life, why should I care about yours”. This is no way to end misunderstanding, ease tension and bring about justice for all.

We all need to get beyond our prejudices if there is any chance of people living together in harmony. This will only be done by treating George Floyd as an individual who was unjustly and cruelly killed rather than as some sort of representative of a race. Punish the individual or individuals who killed him, but don’t punish the innocent with your violence, because that makes you just as bad as the policemen who disgraced their uniform by killing George Floyd.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/06/you-cant-fight-injustice-with-more.html

About Effie Deans

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Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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