With all due respect and no malice intended but the George Floyd murder is not the first time African American men have been wrongfully brutalized and killed by the police in the United States. Even more striking, the graphic violence displayed on video for the world to see of an African American man and a police officer completely out of control displaying a total disregard for the life of someone they are sworn and paid to protect is not new either. And if the manner in which Jesse Jackson characterized the event as “a modern-day lynching” is at all accurate, then what we saw was infinitely more important. Here we see, an abhorrent reality of the historical past of African Americans and how it still exists. But at this point, what we also see is that this violence has caused others to reflect, however unconsciously, on the bias, emotions, and inclinations of the moral injustice of racism.
If we are to distill any essence of knowing why George Floyd’s murder is so important, then we must be mindful of the death of the Trayvon Martin’s, Michael Brown’s, Emmett Till’s and all the others that have been killed with him and examine the historical reality that continues the complicated internal and external dynamics that permits the toleration of a condition that says “this was” and “this is” and “this will always be.” To say that racism and race hatred is wrong and unjust to African Americans without examining the central determinate of what that narrative is and of what comes out of it is useless. To say we can resolve a problem without looking at the determinates of that problem is craziness. We must ask ourselves what is the underlying dynamic that causes this sort of conflict and tension? If the following quotation does not seem sufficient to make any sense, then we will fail to emerge with anything that is going to be of any use.
The following is an excerpt from a speech by Thomas Clarkson, an abolitionist in 1840:
“Perhaps many of you here are not acquainted with the subject of slavery. I will, therefore, explain to you what it is. First, let us imagine a child to have been born of slave parents. Poor unfortunate child! From that very day his birthday, he is considered and classed as a brute. From that very day he becomes property, the property of a master, who may sell him, and do with him what he pleases. Let us now look at him as a grown-up man at his labour in the field. He works there, but he is not paid for his labour. He works there, but not freely and willingly, as our labourers do, but he is followed by a driver, whose whip leaves the marks of its severity on his back during the remainder of his life, but if he is found to be what is brutally called sulky or obstinate, there is yet in store for him, the Chain, the Iron Neck Collar with its frightful spikes, the Dungeon, and other modes of punishment. But let us now look at him in another situation. Weary of his life he flies from oppression and he runs away from the estate, but he is almost sure of being brought back and returned to an enraged master; and have who can imagine, but they, who live in slave countries, what further punishment awaits him. Perhaps he dies in consequence of the cruelties then inflicted upon him, but the murderer escapes. The matter is hushed up. Who on the estate dares to reveal it? ………Perhaps a slave has a wife and family. So much the worse; for he may be sold at any moment to go to a Plantation perhaps a hundred miles off, never to see them more. The wife may be severed from her husband and children in like manner, and the children may be severed from their parents, one after another, or all together, as it suits the purchaser. This is not an ideal case, but a case of every days’ occurrence. These are some of the evils which you are called upon this night to try to put an end to. I do not doubt your humanity. I do not doubt your willingness to pity and befriend the oppressed at home, and can you overlook this monstrous oppression, these monstrous outrages upon human nature, which have been brought before you, because they take place in a foreign land. Christianity, true Christianity, does not confine her sympathy to country or color, but feels for all who are persecuted wherever they may live.”
The sentiments of this passage have echoed down through the centuries. But let us pay particular attention to certain portions, the purpose of which explains why George Floyd’s murder matters. And I quote, “…from that very day his birthday he is considered and classed as a brute…” And what meaning does being a brute carry with it – an animal – someone less than human. And again, “…he becomes property, the property of a master, who may sell him, and do with him what he pleases…” It is not just the words but the interplay of words and the meaning of them. In a sense, we are talking about the words and the relationship of the meaning that can be gleaned from them. A second clarificatory point states, “…Perhaps he dies in consequence of the cruelties then inflicted upon him, but the murderer escapes. The matter is hushed up. Who on the estate dares to reveal it? This is the hideous legacy that African Americans have lived for centuries. The thing that is so important and that we must insist upon examining comes from the very beginning – the institution of slavery and the fear of revolts by enslaved, brutalized Africans. Now, we have the vicious murder of George Floyd in all its graphic violence. The point here is that his death matters because it enabled the entire world to witness and feel the pain of African Americans.
It goes without saying that race hatred and racial violence in the United States has not changed and those with authority to use deadly force still overstep the boundaries of their purpose and position. This is not something new. Perhaps, one of the most notable things is that this time people around the world have witnessed it and are tired of all of it with the authoritarian takeover of governments, the lies, the destruction of constitutional liberties, the bastardizing of the rule of law, the bribery, looting and economic failure the people have just reached a tipping point. There are a number of more specific reasons. Many of us know that the African American and Latin American communities are the hardest hit by police brutality, high death rates, and injustice at the hands of courts and judges throughout the U.S. criminal justice system. But now that the world has acknowledged that America’s original sin is racism, the only question remaining for decent-minded people of moral character is who on the “estate” dares to do something about it?
The Abolition Project Clarkson – Extract from 1840 speech – Thomas Clarkson, Ipswich. Retrieved from http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/audio75970-abolition.html