In Boston we are physically miles away from Minneapolis. But no American city, and, really, no American citizen is separated from what we have seen this week in vivid detail. The killing of George Floyd has catalyzed reactions across the nation. It has done so because it is not a singular, isolated event.
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis this week was morally wrong and must be legally prosecuted. To say this is to state the obvious, but it is worth saying because there is a powerful link between the moral and legal dimensions of the killing which has now sparked protest across the country. As a nation we entrust power, even lethal force, to our government and its representatives in law enforcement. But there are both moral and legal limits to how force can be used. If officers of the law use force in the way millions of us saw in an eight-minute video, then trust in the government, in the law and in the legal system is deeply wounded. That is why the legal prosecution, following constitutional standards, must proceed with care and urgency. The police failed the moral test in George Floyd’s case; now the court will be tested. What is morally wrong must be pursued vigorously by legal standards. That much is lucidly clear.
There is a history here, one documented over decades in print, and now in social media and on television in our homes. The history is clear and tragic: George Floyd was an African American man who died at the hands of a police officer. This is a narrative which has been repeated often and in multiple locations across the country. The history is well documented, but it is known experientially in the African American community in a way that is not widely shared.
The wider community is aware of some cases, but the African American community lives with the experience and memories of these deaths in an entirely different way. It is a daily reality - one they must speak to their children about and live themselves with some fear.
This gap between different communities in what is one country, one civic community, is the broader reality which this week’s events force any of us to reflect upon.
George Floyd’s death occurred in the midst of the most catastrophic healthcare crisis in our history. We are all threatened by it. But the African American community has been impacted in numbers far beyond its size in the country. This fact in turn is related to and repeated in other issues of healthcare, employment and housing.
Responding to George Floyd’s death reaches beyond one person to some of what it reminds us about in these larger realities of our nation. In responding to his death, some have used violence. I can understand the frustration but I must strongly oppose those methods. For any of us, the singular voice of Dr. Martin Luther King still rings true: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”