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GREG HARTON: Riots reveal the divisions that linger

by Greg Harton | May 31, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

The turmoil in Minneapolis and other cities is astonishing, not so much because it's unique, but because in 2020 we're right back where we've been before.

Add Minneapolis to the list that includes places like Ferguson, Mo.; Baltimore; Oakland; Miami; New York; Los Angeles; and unfortunately many more.

The skeptic in me suggests we won't learn and will be here again, when some community that has managed to obscure deep divisions within its population witnesses an incident that brings injustice into sharp focus.

In Minneapolis, the flash point had a name. George Floyd died on Memorial Day. His name quickly evolved into a rally cry among people primed by the inequities they've witnessed or faced.

The initial call sounds too inconsequential to ever become so unbelievably consequential. Police officers responded to a call that a man tried to pay a bill with what the caller believed to be counterfeit money. Police reported that Floyd resisted arrest, but the evidence so far offers little to support that.

Unless saying "I can't breathe" is a form of resistance.

Police officers handcuffed Floyd on the ground. I've seen officers use their knees to hold down someone before, but the excruciatingly long period Floyd's face and body were pinned against the asphalt (about eight minutes) and the painful-looking placement of the officers' knee on Floyd's neck were egregiously excessive.

By the time a medic arrived, the life in George Floyd had slowly slipped away, even as bystanders pleaded with police to ease up a bit. It will be up to the coroner to determine, but it will come as no surprise to me that Floyd died of suffocation.

It is necessary to be clear about this: George Floyd was a black man. The officer caught on video with his knee in Floyd's back is white.

The rioting has shocked the senses but also led us down paths we've gone before. Some attempt to explain the anger and frustration at the center of the violence. Others have peacefully protested. Still others dismiss the message of injustice because it's wrapped in violence; the rioters and looters create an easy escape hatch for anyone eager to ignore the underlying reality of racism and inequity.

People of color want justice. So do all people with any level of humanity. And who can blame anyone for wanting that? George Floyd did not need to die. He should not have died. No portion of any community should feel a need to view law enforcement as a likely threat to their very lives. Where that exists, there is much work to be done.

Even if one wants to assert that Floyd was guilty of the forgery, since when does that earn a death penalty? No reasonable person suggests police should ignore a crime, but Floyd is as dead as he would be if the officers just drove up and shot him.

Holding a man down with a knee on his neck until he suffocates will never be an acceptable response to any crime.

Calls for law and order are incomplete if they are not accompanied by demands for justice and fair treatment by law enforcement, and quick condemnation when an officer uses his badge as authority to become abusive.

The experience of Minneapolis reflects how cities are not monolithic. Some populations have vastly different experiences than others, and that often boils down to race and/or economics. It's as true in Springdale as it is in Little Rock and in Minneapolis and beyond. When violence erupts, it's an indication that the needs of some residents have been ignored, or even abused, for far too long.

The answer is to stop ignoring those needs before circumstances make ignoring them impossible.

Commentary on 05/31/2020

Print Headline: Riots reveal the divisions that linger


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