I watched the unedited video of George Floyd’s death several days ago. Even as a bystander separated by time and a video screen, I found the incident extremely painful to watch.
The thing that haunts me is not the sound of Floyd’s groans, nor the sight of Chauvin continuing to press his weight into Floyd’s neck for a full four minutes after he’s clearly unconscious.
The most heartbreaking thing in the video is the pleading of the bystanders on behalf of Floyd as he dies. I can hear the despair in their voices as they try everything from reason to goading to requests to check Floyd’s pulse to get the cop off of Floyd’s neck. Once Floyd is unconscious, the panic sets in and they become shrill, but nothing changes.
What an incredible lack of agency the bystanders must have felt, to watch a man being killed in front of them with no ability to change or stop it, helpless to watch as they threw his lifeless body on a stretcher.
I can’t help but wonder what I would do if I were a bystander at that moment. Would I have the courage to continue videoing? Would I join the small group of people pleading with the cop to “Get off his neck?” Would I tackle a cop and risk getting shot in an effort to save a stranger’s life?
Or would I walk past and ignore it, figuring that he must deserve it, hurrying home to hug my kids and thankful it wasn’t me pinned to the concrete?
To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d like to think that I would at least join the pleading to “Get off his neck!”
The truth is, though, that I am a bystander to Floyd’s death. I have the choice to do the right thing now.
I know that the US has the largest prison population in the world. We have more prisoners in our prisons than China and Russia combined, even though they have a much larger population and both are authoritarian regimes with abysmal human rights records.
I also know that our prison population is disproportionately black.
I must recognize that either I believe that blacks are inherently more criminal than other races to justify this statistic, or that there is something that penalizes race that is built into our justice system. There’s not a lot of wiggle room between these two options. Either for some reason, blacks are more criminal than everybody else, or this society penalizes blacks more heavily than others.
As a minister, I have faith that we are all spiritual beings, with the same inherent capabilities. Whatever body we’re currently inhabiting, our bodies aren’t us.
As a minister, I believe that whether cop or looter, gang member or embezzler, criminality stems from spiritual or mental causes, not physical ones.
Therefore, any idea that would justify thinking that a greater percentage of blacks than whites were in jail because they deserved it is incompatible with my spiritual beliefs.
I am a bystander to that injustice as well. It’s happening right now, in my city and state.
Will I hurry past, happy to get home and hug my kids? Or will I have the courage to join the voices calling to “Get off his neck?”
A man in uniform killed Floyd for using a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. We will never know if Floyd knew that money was counterfeit, but we do know that the man that killed him must’ve felt that Floyd’s life was worth less than 20 bucks. We also know that the three men in uniform who had the power to stop him and who had sworn “to serve and protect” instead stood by for several minutes after Floyd was unconscious, still pinned to the concrete, and did nothing. Even in the bloodiest of combat sports, referees end the fight the instant an opponent appears unconscious.
I am a bystander to Floyd’s death. Although I wasn’t in that crowd, I feel their helplessness and pain. I can’t be content to walk past. I must lend my voice to those who are pleading to “Get off his neck.”
I will pay much closer attention to local elections and the impact these have on our community, and I will vote appropriately.
I will lend financial support to organizations that work to ensure equal rights for all citizens under the law.
And I will encourage my friends to do the same.
At average reading speed, you’ve been reading this article for less time than Floyd was pinned by the neck to the concrete – while unconscious.