This week marked the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, obstructing his breath as he begged for his life. A jury of 12 found Floyd’s killer guilty of one count of second-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, and one count of manslaughter on April 20. He awaits sentencing and has appealed his convictions. Three other officers involved are awaiting trial.
Floyd’s murder sparked protests by millions of people across the country and around the world — and in North Carolina communities — objecting to police brutality aimed at Black people. Protesters chanted, “Say his name” and his final words, “I can’t breathe” and silently but profoundly commemorated his last minutes of life while lying on the ground with their hands behind their backs.
Floyd’s death is known around the world because it was captured on camera — video filmed by bystanders — and then spread on social media, leading to public demand that his killer be held to account. Subsequently, police body-camera footage confirmed what bystanders saw.
If not for that recent phenomenon — phone cameras — his killer might never have been brought to justice.
It’s access to police body-camera footage, though, that has revealed the problem to be extensive, as illustrated by the treatment of U.S. Army Lt. Caron Nazario, whose duty uniform and willingness to cooperate didn’t prevent Virginia troopers from pepper-spraying, striking and handcuffing him, though they never charged him with a crime; in the questionable deadly shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City; and now by the brutal death of motorist Ronald Greene, allegedly at the hands of out-of-control Louisiana troopers, all captured on camera.
In Winston-Salem, protests last year included references to the mistreatment of John Neville, who died while in custody in the Forsyth County jail in 2019.
All of these incidents lead to a disturbing question that has yet to be answered: How many more such deaths occur regularly but are not captured on camera?
These incidents have contributed to an even larger conversation about racism in America that to this day leads to discrimination and early death. It’s a conversation that has now encompassed our culture and media, our educational system, our health care system and just about every other aspect of American life. If engaged in properly and in good faith, it stands to make each of us better aware — “woke,” some might say, with varying degrees of appreciation — and instigate greater strategies for bringing the promise — “with liberty and justice for all” — to fruition.
The conversation is uncomfortable for many, but it’s necessary.
And it’s a conversation that has dissenters and critics.
Some will continue to make excuses — claiming that the real problem is Black crime or a lack of compliance to “law and order.” If Floyd had done this; if Smith had done that …
But the accusations of crime against the victims and their reactions, motivated by fear, anger or defiance — none of them justify a death sentence.
Despite the injustice done to him, Floyd has become a symbol around the world. He’s not a hero or a role model, but a simple man, with virtues and flaws, whose life was unjustly cut short. None of us know what he may have otherwise achieved.
We urge everyone, as they can, to be a part of the important conversations taking place. The real tragedy is not just that we’re still talking about race all these years after the civil rights movement, but that we still have to.
Today’s editorial is from The Winston-Salem Journal. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.