The George Floyd Thing

by Juan Thomas
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“The only wrong thing to say is to say nothing” – Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

I’ve intentionally stayed away from this because I really don’t know what to say. But the Duchess of Sussex is right: I’m definitely erring by not saying anything. Last month, on Memorial Day, a Black man was essentially killed by a Minneapolis police officer when said officer basically asphyxiated him by placing a knee on his neck for about 9 minutes. There is a very disturbing video of this out there and you can certainly use Google or Yahoo! or whatever other available search engine to look for it but I won’t be posting it on The Book of Juan. In fact, I haven’t even looked at the footage and I don’t think I ever will. Anyway, the name of the man killed was George Floyd. He was a 46-year-old father of 5 who spent most of his life in Houston but had made his home in Minneapolis for the last several years. He had an encounter with Minneapolis Police after he reportedly attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill in a grocery store. This led to a confrontation on the streets, where a White police officer—Derek Chauvin—detained him by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck, eventually cutting off all of this air supply and killing him. Amazingly, all of this was caught on mobile phone video. My take: George Floyd was absolutely murdered and there’s really no good excuse or reason to say otherwise. As a person who prides himself on rules and all things written in black and white, I support law enforcement and the concept of police but a clear line has been crossed here and maybe in a lot of other instances too.

Almost immediately after the terrible death of Floyd, the nation was in an uproar. There were protests all over the place. I saw the television coverage of Minneapolis being torn apart with destructive protests and looting. Target, which is based out of Minneapolis, had one of its stores looted and burned. A police station was overtaken and burned as well. In Seattle, thousands descended upon the Capitol Hill area and clashed with police…eventually to the point where the East Precinct withdrew their entire force and the area was declared an autonomous zone under the control of the protesters. In Los Angeles, of course, protesters stopped traffic on the interstates and even choked out an LAPD officer. In the Bay Area, protesters blocked traffic on I-880 and threw items at police in Oakland while there was a lot of civil disturbance in San Francisco’s Union Square. In New York City, there were protests in all of the boroughs and people clashed with police outside of Trump Tower and others places. Police vehicles were torched as well. One of the most gripping scenes of these incredible protests was in Atlanta. Protesters gathered at Centennial Olympic Park and it eventually turned ugly right at the CNN Center during a live broadcast of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. I was actually quite fearful that the protesters would break the line that the officers had formed and invade the building and disrupt the news process. The ugliest of the protests were here…in Washington, DC. Already incredibly unpopular amongst the majority Black population in the city and in the immediate surrounding Maryland suburbs, President Trump came under a lot of fire. Buildings were damaged and looted and there were nightly clashes between protesters and Federal law enforcement officers. Many of the historic monuments in Lafayette Square were either damaged or defaced…something that drew the ire of the Secretary of the Interior as he sent a very distasteful email to the entire agency, specifically calling the protesters “anarchists”. I’ve been with the agency for coming up on 4 years and that may be the low moment in my career at Interior. Mayor Muriel Bowser publicly clashed with the President and gave permission for the words “Black Lives Matter” to be painted in 35-foot letters on 16th St NW leading up to the White House. She renamed that stretch of street Black Lives Matter Plaza and asked for all hotels to basically evict the National Guard that had descended upon the city to restore order. It should be noted that while the media—CNN, NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, etc.—definitely covered the violence, the looting, and other criminal aspects of the protests, they largely stayed away from the peaceful gatherings. That was a bit disappointing but not entirely surprising given the culture of media today.

All across the country, people had conversations about this George Floyd thing. Mercedes and I had conversations. I had conversations with my father about this. I had conversations with my co-best friends about this. I even had conversations with colleagues at work about this. It was such a galvanizing event that it pushed people to really talk about the elephant that has long occupied a space in the room of this nation: the treatment of Black Americans. George Floyd’s horrible death is just the latest in a series of disturbing Black deaths at the hands of police officers. And that includes a Louisville woman—Breonna Taylor—who was shot and killed during a raid on her home in the wee hours of March 13th. It’s a story that we’re starting to hear over and over and over and over again…violence against Black people. And honestly, it extends way past the violence. It really lends itself to the idea that Black Americans are considered lesser by many people in this country. A little over a week ago, people all over the country celebrated Juneteenth. It was incredible to see a large contingent of White America and even Conservative America acknowledge the meaning of that day to Black Americans. It was also equally incredible to see the outpouring of support for Black Americans in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd murder. Blacks started getting some well overdue fair shakes in workplaces and in other areas. There has even been a lot of international support for Blacks and the Black Lives Matter movement.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really know where all of this goes. Of course, there will be a trial for Chauvin and possibly the other 3 officers involved. We’ll see all of the major players—Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ben Crump—put their paw prints all of this. It’ll be highly politicized in the presumptive battle for the White House this fall between President Trump and former Vice President Biden. But I really think all of this could’ve been avoided. I think our leaders in Congress have certainly failed Black America by not guaranteeing us exclusive equal rights and protections as American citizens. Everything is always lumped in with others and it’s always vague and full of gray areas. Without the protection of the law at the highest level, what expectation do we have of protection at the lower levels? This goes toward police brutality, workplace discrimination, housing discrimination, the wealth gap, and a whole bunch of other s*** that have Black Americans behind the proverbial 8-ball. In my heart, I feel like a reckoning of America is on the horizon. I think that this George Floyd thing combined with the history of police brutality and the history of brazen discrimination and the devastating effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Black community will definitely lead to some kind of major uprising in the near future.

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