Time and again, the media outlets are awash with Black Americans being fatally killed by white police officers in the United States over flimsy reasons. There is an outpour of rage, and after some time, the same thing happens again – another Black person dead at the hands of white police officers. The vicious cycle never stops, and it raises pertinent issues about the way the American criminal justice system is predicated on race.
The recent, heart-wrenching, and incensing death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States has once again sparked anger and protests about the unending deaths that Black people face at the hands of white police officers. George Floyd died as a result of a white police officer putting his knee on Floyd’s neck, as George was repeatedly pleading that he could not breathe. Police received a call from a shopkeeper about someone trying to pass a potentially counterfeit bill, and Floyd was arrested. Security footage showed Floyd being compliant as he was arrested and led away in handcuffs.
Cellphone footage showed a white officer pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes. In the video, onlookers pleaded heavily with the officers saying that Floyd’s life was in grave danger. “Please, I can’t breathe…do not kill me,” is what Floyd said, with the officer not paying any attention to his pleas. When he eventually removed his knee, Floyd’s body was motionless and unresponsive. A person passing nearby can be heard saying, “They just killed him.”
The police noted that Floyd had attempted to “physically resist arrest” and the statement said that Floyd appeared to be in “medical distress,” but was silent about how a police officer put his weight on Floyd’s airway. The officers at the scene were immediately fired, pending a full investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Twelve hours before the George Floyd incident, a white woman in a New York park named Amy Cooper called the police saying that an African-American man, named Christian Cooper (no relation) was threatening her life. They were in the Ramble, a bird-watching area when Christian Cooper asked Amy Cooper to put her dog on a leash – something required to do in the park. But the woman went overboard in refusing to comply with what the man had asked her to do, and instead of calling the police saying that “there’s an African-American man threatening her life.” Christian Cooper filmed the call on his phone. She was fired from her job. Her inclusion of race shows how the police do their duties according to race, and to protect white women from the “threats posed” by Black men.
George Floyd’s horrific death brings into light the death of Eric Garner in 2014, who was killed when a New York police officer put him in a chokehold while arresting him. The officers tried to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, and as he was under the chokehold, he said “I can’t breathe.” But not federal charges were brought against the police officer as prosecutors said there were not sufficient charges to level against the officer.
The murder of Ahmaud Arbery also highlights how black people continue to die because of the racial prejudice hurled at them. He went for a jog in the predominantly white area of Satilla Shores in Georgia and at some point, he came to the attention of two white residents - Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son who also live in the community. The father told his son that he thought Arbery was the man who was said to be breaking into people’s homes. They drew their firearms and pursued Arbery, while another neighbor, William Brian, followed them, as he was filming the chase. The footage that later surfaced shows the two armed men, father, and son, being ahead of him while the other car was behind him. Three shots are heard being fired, and Arbery tries to escape but to no avail.
These stories continue happening again and again. The death of George Floyd has made the residents of Minneapolis protest against the police, with the police also firing back at the protestors. Police cars were pelted with stones and buildings set on fire. The issue that continues to be problematic is how police officers with skewed views towards African-Americans are recruited. Policing in America is apparently according to race – the Black person has to suffer disproportionately. People continue being killed. And the cycle never stops.
Figures from The Washington Post show that in 2019 alone, 1014 African-Americans were killed through fatal shootings by white police officers. The Washington Post found out that the FBI undercounted these incidents since the police voluntarily give data about these shootings. It is a death spiral that seemingly has no end yet.
The image of a Black person being viewed as dangerous and hazardous to society is one that American society needs to change. Law enforcement agencies buy into these stereotypes, and that is why the cycle of death becomes ferociously relentless. The fact that no real legal consequences befall the implicated officers continues to embolden more police officers to be ruthless towards black people. Being black must not be a death sentence at the hands of the criminal justice system.
People expect justice to be delivered to the Floyd family through an expeditious investigation that will result in the prosecution of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd. The blatant disregard for human life by police officers is something that American society ought to reform.