Bearing Witness

I didn’t think it would happen. The quickness with which the answer arrived didn’t comfort me like it did others. I thought for sure we’d all be let down again. I’m so happy I was wrong.

Vasanth Rajkumar, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Last Tuesday, a jury in Minnesota found a former police officer guilty on three counts (two murder, one manslaughter) for killing George Floyd. After years of seeing officers brought up on charges for injuring or killing people in their care to no avail or not being charged at all, I honestly didn’t believe it would happen.

I watched most of the trial, only missing a few moments of testimony towards the end of the prosecution’s case. Until the trial, I hadn’t seen The Video, the 9 minutes and 29 seconds that sparked world-wide outrage and protests. In May 2020, dealing with a family member’s illness, COVID turning life inside-out, and politics making me ill on a daily basis, I simply couldn’t witness anymore horror. I couldn’t watch a video I heard was unbearable. Having seen it now during the trial, I know that assessment to be correct. The entire time, I kept waiting for it to end as I squirmed at the sight of a man obviously in need of help but getting none.

The arguments some people initially made about why the police officer didn’t do anything wrong were already lost on me simply having heard what happened last Memorial Day, though I was open to hearing all the facts. The captured footage made those arguments even more irrelevant.

He was breaking the law. I don’t care if he was or not — he needed help.

He was on drugs. That means he needed even more help.

He didn’t follow the rules. That doesn’t mean the cops can break theirs. They are to be held to a higher standard, or should be.

He’s a loser addict so who cares. He’s a human being, so I do, and I’m not alone.

After the guilty verdict, the president went on TV and talked about policing reform. Judging by the response a few years ago to a call for a man holed up with a gun in a nearby neighborhood — a tank-like looking thing, high powered rifles, cops in camo complete with helmets with little twigs on them, in addition to the myriad incidents involving Black people across the nation, I was already on board for that discussion. (Just a tip but if you let people do things with impunity, the power tends to go to their heads. Also, if people tend to panic in situations, like, say, shooting their gun instead of their taser, then maybe the way officers are evaluated to see if they can do the job should be reviewed (ya think?))

The president also used the occasion to discuss systemic racism, which made an older family member scoff. She who heard stories of family members being shunned in the south for selling extra chickens from their farm to Black families in the 1950s. She who remembers water fountains marked Whites Only, who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement in real time in the 1960s. She who seems to forget that the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, just 56 years ago, a century after the end of the Civil War, finally ending years of legal discrimination (in theory, anyway).

She who can’t see her own privilege.

She has glimpsed it, though — several years ago, an exposé about a supermarket desert in a Black neighborhood outraged her, and rightfully so. Imagining little old ladies traipsing who knows how far on a bus with their collapsible metal cart just to get food made her angry. Still, I’ve learned not to get my hopes up that maybe she’s evolved her overall views. True to form, in times like these, she reminds me she hasn’t.

“I don’t believe there’s systemic racism in this country. After all, we elected an African-American president, twice,” she said, like she voted for him (of course she didn’t).

“That just emboldened at least half of the half that didn’t vote for him to wear their white hoods in public,” I said, not even mentioning the past four years.

That’s when the scoff came. At me. At the FBI and other agencies who have been talking about growing domestic violent extremism for years now. At Black people who say this is my experience. At anything that doesn’t fit her world or political view.

I mean, if it wasn’t for The Video, she would have just accepted the police officers’ version of events in the Floyd case, because anyone in a uniform must be noble (a concept enforced by the media she consumes). Fact: Police are people, and like all people, some do horrible things, sometimes because of racism, sometimes because they’re just criminal.

Fact 2: racism is embedded in the fabric of how our country came to be (a remark that engendered her comment: “You’re not one of those 1619 people, are you?”). She must look away when the Karens call the police on Black men walking in the park and myriad other ways racism invades our lives, institutions, and country. Even if you can’t see — or refuse to look at — racism in America, it does exist. In fact, if you can’t see it, you’re part of the problem.

The Floyd case brings a moment of accountability, and I’m still amazed at the 12 men and women on the jury who have given my idealistic realistic self hope. Sooner or later, we’ll get policing, race, socioeconomics, et al, we’ll get it all right all the time…


4 responses

  1. “She who can’t see her own privilege.” Am familiar with She, they are all around me. Am tired of listening to She, while hoping that She will eventually see the light of reality, preferably in my lifetime. Right?

  2. I’d like to say I have hope for that, but…. If I do, at this point it’s small.

  3. stephen oneill Avatar
    stephen oneill

    The black Republican senator who gave the response to President Biden’s address says there is no racism in America. Or some such nonsense.

    But if he says it, it must be true. Small hope, Tara.

  4. I ignore those who deny as much as I can, Steve.

    Small hope times millions of people with small hope… hopefully leads to change, for real.

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