Why Can’t We Breathe?

A long time ago, my job required me to interact with prison guards on a regular basis.  For the most part, the guards were police academy washouts.  Men too emotionally unstable, too cruel, or not intelligent enough, to make it as cops.  Or worse, candidates with known history of racism.  They were the men (and on rare occasion women) charged with keeping the peace in our prisons.  The culture inside the prisons was one of violence, cruelty, and racism.

When our country began privatizing its prison systems, and suddenly we had more cells that needed filling, the requirements for becoming a police officer were loosened a bit.

The result was a police system in which more and more officers resembled the prison guards I knew: emotionally unstable, cruel, and racist.

The only difference being the brotherhood code built within being a cop is much stronger than being a prison guard.

What we are seeing now is what so many have seen all their lives.

We saw it in everyday life in the 1950s and 1960s, up until the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  After that act was signed, racism didn’t go away like some magic trick.  It became more subversive and systemic.  Subtle, and more pervasive.  It was no longer just an evil quirk of the south, spreading throughout the heartland into all of the United States.

The assassination of King in 1968 wasn’t the wake-up call to all Americans, it was a reinforcement to all people of color:  watch your back.

Relations on the surface have improved in slim, incremental bits since then, coupled with massive leaps backwards.  Those leaps have names.

James Byrd, Jr.

Trayvon Martin.

Tamir Rice.

Ahmaud Arbery.

George Floyd.

While the police are not responsible for all of these deaths, at this moment, the police are responsible for their actions right now in response to the killing of Floyd.  For all intents and purposes, Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by a police officer with a history of disciplinary issues.

I am not interested in “Not All Police” -ing this issue right now.  Because for anyone wanting to whitewash this away with “All Lives Matter,” yes, all lives do, but until Black lives ALSO matter, the “All Lives” response is specious.

The officer was wrong to treat Floyd as he did which led to Floyd’s death.  Those men in Georgia were wrong to stalk Arbery.  The officer in Cleveland was wrong to shoot Rice.  The self-glorified vigilante in Florida was wrong to shoot Martin.  Those men in Texas were wrong to lynch Byrd.

Racism is wrong.  Horribly, violently, abhorrently, vehemently wrong.  There is no argument that can grant any false equivalency to it.  Nothing that can justify any actions made under its banner, even if there is any hint of a potentially legal cause for the very beginning of the interaction (as there was to the very beginning of the Floyd incident, suspicion of fraud, which was almost immediately proven false).

The looting and violence that has befallen cities since Floyd’s death is even under scrutiny, with evidence popping up all over that it is the work of white supremacists hoping to encourage a race war.

Let that sink in.

White people have been caught on camera perpetuating violence and instigating property damage (including destroying police property).

Black people are being caught on camera trying to stop them.

And the police are responding with violence.  They are arresting reporters, and anyone recording the protests.

The police state has begun, and the man squatting in the White House is upset about being fact-checked.

Our systemic racism and classism will not be cured overnight, but there is always hope on the horizon.  Remember that when the government tries to remove voting powers from the people before November.

And when people look at the list above, and at what happened to Floyd, and at what is happening now in our cities, and their first response is about how awful the looting is, and how it never does anyone any good?

Remind them that the American Revolution, which begat their oh-so beloved land of the free and home of the brave, started with the Boston Tea Party.

A protest where people fed-up with having their rights trampled on turned to looting to be heard.