There’s always that heartbreaking moment in any national moment of distress when you realize that, no, we’re not going to come together as a nation or do anything resembling that.
In the case of the Monday death of George Floyd — the Minneapolis man whose passing was, unless there’s a dramatic “Law & Order”-esque plot twist in store for us, precipitated in part or in whole by a police officer putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for roughly nine minutes during an arrest as Floyd complained he couldn’t breathe — I prayed that moment would come.
It was unlikely, sure, but it was a death that enraged conservatives and liberals, the political and apolitical, people of all races. We saw the video and we knew justice had to be served.
If there was ever a moment where we could maybe break bread over a national tragedy, this was it. I prayed for George Floyd’s loved ones, especially his family, but most importantly, I prayed for this nation. Let this be a moment from which a modicum of healing could emerge.
On Thursday morning I saw this and I knew it would all end in tears:
Headed to Minneapolis today!
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) May 28, 2020
The Rev. Al Sharpton — the least plausible American clerical leader since Elmer Gantry, a man who’s never fully apologized for the anti-Semitic rhetoric which helped inflame the situation in the run-up to the Crown Heights riots in New York City in 1991, which ended in the death of a Jewish doctoral student (“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house,” one sample Sharpton statement went) — was headed to Minneapolis to … well, clearly not to patch things up.
Sharpton’s learned a thing or two about decorum in 30 years, particularly since he has an MSNBC show to keep, but he wasn’t headed to Minneapolis to keep the peace. (He did say that destroying “black-owned stores” was “reckless,” although the question about other Minneapolis businesses rather asks itself.)
However, Sharpton needn’t have been there to throw kerosene on the figurative fires when there was plenty of literal fires being set.
Another question that rather asks itself, then: What would George Floyd have thought about this?
What would he have thought about a small subset of protesters — rioters, really — laying waste to the city?
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, not only is Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross “heartbroken” over what’s happened, she says Floyd would have been, too.
“Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate Floyd,” said Ross, who had dated the 46-year-old Floyd for roughly three years.
“He loved the city. He came here [from Houston] and stayed here for the people and the opportunities,” she told the Star-Tribune. “Floyd was a gentle giant. He was about love and about peace.”
His relatives echoed similar statements through the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump.
The statement thanked protesters “for joining them in standing for justice, [but] we also cannot sink to the level of our oppressors, and we cannot endanger each other as we respond to the necessary urge to raise our voices in unison and outrage.”
I’m not entirely sure who the “oppressors” are here, but they could be the ones coming in to clean up the mess.
Minnesota is now requesting more National Guard soldiers to deal with the problems on Minneapolis’ streets, according to Fox News.
As of Thursday, the chief of police said they weren’t even bothering to try protecting property.
And meanwhile, we’re told this is a natural reaction to an injustice, particularly one perpetrated by a white cop on a person of color.
A certain Martin Luther King Jr. quote has been getting quite a bit of play these past few days, one which is worth examining.
“A riot is the language of the unheard,” King said in 1967.
“And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity.”
That clip was tweeted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in the wake of the George Floyd riots.
“In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?” pic.twitter.com/Als3jhxaGH
— The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) May 28, 2020
Yet, as The Week noted, there’s a bit of deceptive editing there.
Before this, here’s what King said: “Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating.”
And far from being unheard, Floyd’s cries were heard and seen by millions upon millions, who condemned the officers and called for justice.
When Rush Limbaugh says “I hope these cops are dealt with good and hard” and “I’ve seen the video like everybody else, and it makes me so mad I can’t see straight,” this isn’t a situation where there was much controversy about what should happen.
Lesser men than King are at work in Minneapolis, tragically.
When Al Sharpton is on the scene providing leadership, you can guess how the situation will evolve — or devolve — from there. This is now about the riots and the media coverage of them, not about George Floyd. That’s the definition of self-defeat.
George Floyd’s death demands justice. Parts of his adopted city being reduced to ashes and rubble is the diametrical opposite of that.
One hopes the residents of Minneapolis will listen to his girlfriend — if just to honor the memory of the deceased.
Please, let’s at least come together to do that.