On “George Floyd is not Michael Brown” and Clumping Stories of Racism (and Why that Doesn’t Matter)
Frequently, lists of black Americans killed at the hands of police officers are circulated, demonstrating the dire need for the dismantling of white, systemic oppression by the United States government or white supremacists toward the African American community.
However, George Floyd’s alleged crime was either using a counterfeit bill or check, while Michael Brown’s alleged crime was reaching into a police officer’s car to use a gun. Public perception of George Floyd’s situation has largely been consensus — that he was a victim of murder by a racist, white police officer. Many have argued that Michael Brown’s example is not one of these, as the officer acted in self-defense and there was immediate danger. So, ok — let’s get on this boat and assume that this is a fair argument. Michael Brown’s (and assuming other cases as well) are not all valid examples of racism. Let’s dive into this more.
Using just a few other examples, we can construct a list — “list A” — which contains descriptions of the deaths/crimes of Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Philando Castile (this is not comprehensive, of course)
Ahmaud Arbery: (Dead) Allegedly trespassed and scoped-out homes which he could later rob, was currently attempting to rob of copper wire, or thinking about robbing it
Eric Garner: (Dead) Allegedly sold loose cigarettes without tax stamps (and had a history of arrests for other crimes)
Freddie Gray: (Dead) Allegedly possessed an illegal knife/switchblade
Philando Castile: (Dead) Allegedly, “I didn’t know if he was gonna, I didn’t know what he was gonna do,” after an officer asked him to get his license during a traffic stop
In addition, let’s consider a few other infamous criminals within the United States in recent years, comprising “list B”:
Dylan Roof: (Guilty) — Mass murderer who shot and killed a group of black Christians attending church
James Holmes: (Guilty) — Mass murderer who shot 70 people and killed 12 during the opening of a Batman movie
Larry Nassar: (Guilty) — Mass rapist, who although he had been reported several times within 20 years, raped somewhere between 300 and 600 little girls as young as 6 years old under the guise of “world-renowned, gentle and brilliant gymnastics doctor”
Adam Lanza: (Dead) Allegedly shot and killed 20 first-graders and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school
Some of the men in list A had criminal histories and others did not, which is likewise the case in list B. However, those in list B are still alive aside from Lanza, who committed suicide immediately after his rampage.
In list A, crimes are prefaced with “allegedly.” Since these men are all dead (all were killed by officers) they will never face trial, and if we were to follow the Constitution’s guarantee that a right to trial is a basic human right, then all suspects who never faced trial were possibly denied a basic human right (and if their killers never faced trial, were definitely denied it). White society is quick to ignore President Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia or Harvey Weinstein’s rape charges with cries of “innocence until proven guilty,” and criticisms of the media for even suggesting otherwise.
But, Ahmaud Arbery will never get to make a case for himself, even if he was stealing copper…or was “going to steal” other things, or was “going to hurt people”…wait, what exactly was he going to do? We speculate, but our courts will never legally know. If this is considered ok or right because “you just know” or “its obvious,” then we should stop treating white alleged criminals with innocence until proven guilty, and move to an “its obvious” system across the board.
Furthermore, those in list B sparked debates about mental illness — Lanza, for example, was called mentally ill and it was reported that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and OCD. Dylan Roof was reported as a sweet kid, and a “loner caught in internet evil.” James Holmes’ life was reported as “Normal Rockwell” and a nice, gentle kid who developed a mental illness.
Philando Castile’s crime was probably something about following police orders (of course, we’ll never really know because there will be no trial —and officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of his charges which were not murder in the first place, but rather wreckleness and manslaughter), before the police department worked to place him into a new job.
I recently discussed music preferences with a white man, which turned into the case that Tupac Shakur was a bad person because his mother had killed an officer as a Black Panther (for the record, she was also acquitted of that charge). Forget that she was acquitted just like officer Yanez was, or that Afeni was not her son, let alone the fact also that Tupac funded schools and community centers for kids living in ghettos, let homeless strangers sleep on his couch in New York, funded football leagues, always rushed to sing to sick children, denied East and West coast “beefs” blown up by the media, criticized the media for promoting violence, wrote music about God, unconditional love, appreciation for his mother, and real struggles in black communities, or that he quietly started his own charity in order to reduce black-on-black crime. Still, Tupac is considered a “thug” and white men who shoot scores of children and never started charities, are considered mentally ill. We investigated the lives of white school shooters, trying to “find out why” they turned into what they did. But with young, black Americans seen as “thugs,” we stop there, despite whether they grew up on the streets, were raised by drug dealers, didn’t have a proper school system to attend, and had to sell drugs in order to eat.
The point is, men in list A, and including Michael Brown — whether or not he reached for the officer’s gun (because officer Darren Wilson was never charged for any type of crime, at all)-have all been either denied altogether due process, or not afforded the same benefits-of-a-doubt that are given to white men charged with crimes. White men regularly — whether right or wrong ethically-are able to make their cases and defend themselves, even when they are caught red-handed committing mass murder.
The black men from list A never stood a chance at defending themselves: they were never afforded the options of pleading not guilty (or guilty), settling cases, performing community service, serving probation, hiring a lawyer, finding legal loopholes to escape punishment, saying goodbye to their friends and families, receiving visitations or letters from jail, regretting their actions, serving their time and eventually getting released, getting released due to overcrowding, or watching the world change from the inside. They’ll never have a chance to regret or resent their actions and find God, repent, or apologize. They’ll never be awarded in prison for good behavior. Whether or not these are all good or bad things is irrelevant, because those are the things afforded to criminals in this country (i.e. white criminals), even if those men were guilty of a crime.
White America, who doesn’t face a problem of fatal racial police brutality, regularly trivializes, minimizes, and blame-shifts black Americans on racially motivated police brutality. That itself is enough to generate rightful anger and resentment from black communities, in the same way it does people in any type of relationship. Unfortunately though, the relationship between a man or woman and his or her society and government isn’t one that they can simply leave as a matter of “differences.” We’re quick to point out that although black Americans make up a minority of welfare recipients, they actually comprise a vast majority when looking at ratios from a percentages perspective. But, we don’t apply that logic to say that although police brutality affects a relatively small number of Americans (so it can’t be that bad), that the ratio is extremely disproportionately affecting black Americans and thus it’s actually a huge and immensely impactful issue for them.
George Floyd’s accused murderer will get to defend himself, at minimum, while white Americans will argue that list A, of black men deserved the consequences of being criminals (which was death), even if their “alleged” crimes were selling cigarettes, owning a switchblade (lots of white people own switchblades), reaching too quickly for a wallet, or probably plotting to steal a thing eventually.
If Michael Brown’s situation is so vastly different than George Floyd’s situation, officer Darren Wilson (who killed Brown) should have faced charges of any kind when they were called for, regardless. And, if we can say that young, black thugs are effectively guilty of their accusations based on the fact that they’re perpetual criminals anyway, then we should also be able to say that black men who were killed were victims of racist, police brutality, since historically speaking our government or white supremacists have killed innocent black Americans anyway (including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who white America only quotes and celebrates when preaching peace to black Americans, but not when they are preached to that violence often comes with the territory of fighting for human rights, and that it always has).
Our jobs as the public — as individuals living in society with one another- isn’t to pick and choose who gets due process based on our own personal perceptions about what happened within the windows of 30-second YouTube videos. And even if we did, our job is to hold onto those personal opinions, black-box them, and still support the idea of innocence until proven guilty, if that’s the route we choose to go (which we did when it was written by our forefathers into our Constitution).