It’s been more than a week since a viral video showed former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, apparently suffocating him to death. Rightly so, Chauvin was fired – as were three other officers who were with Chauvin as he brutally restrained Floyd as the Minneapolis resident begged for air until losing consciousness.
Chauvin has since been charged with second degree murder and remains in prison after his recent court appearance. Additionally, the three fellow former officers who were with him – Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Keung – have been charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder. They too are in custody awaiting their hearings. Rightly so, the D.O.J. and the F.B.I. said both would conduct an investigation to consider if civil rights laws were violated in the course of Floyd’s death.
This episode of police brutality seemed to be unique to other cases. It appeared to be the one case where people across the political spectrum agreed that the arresting officer had gone much too far – deserving arrest and charge for his behavior.
The near unanimity, the firing and arrests of the officers involved, and the initial charge of third-degree murder brought against Chauvin wasn’t enough to prevent protests calling for justice. Starting in Minneapolis, the anger was infectious. “Peaceful demonstrations” quickly turned into mass protests, riots and looting – spreading to more than forty cities across the country causing most to issue curfews in feeble attempts to suppress violence.
One reason given for the rationalized violence and vandalism is the idea that policing is inherently racist. These people believe that racially discriminatory policing is part of our “racist” criminal justice system, which is reflective of the country as a whole. Against evidence to the contrary (here, here, here, here, here, and here), they are convinced that America remains institutionally racist against blacks and other minorities.
More specifically, for this set of people, Chauvin is representative of America whereas Floyd is symbolic of both historic and contemporary situations of American blacks.
Can we honestly say that what happened in Minneapolis reflects America on the whole? Does Floyd’s death morally indict America as racist against blacks? Can we responsibly move beyond this tragedy to heal the ties that bind the American experiment?
It depends on whom you ask.
With respect to the groveling, sanctimonious apologies, the condescending racial deference shown to blacks; the exaggerated and cynical attention-seeking support of the Movement for Black Lives by individuals and businesses – on social media and in non-violent marches in various cities, respectively – there’s certainly enough people who think that a (systemic) racial status quo, vis-à-vis blacks, exists.
Without providing real evidence of discrimination, they’re convinced that things must “change” (what ‘change’ means remains unclear).
However, after sifting through the performative acts of penitence by Christians and non-Christians alike, who are guilty of practicing their (self) righteousness before others, it should be obvious that what happened in Minneapolis doesn’t or shouldn’t define America, nor is it reflective, of the country as a whole.
People should be able to soberly but cautiously acknowledge that racism in some form still exists. The sad reality is that racism will continue to exist on this side of eternity. It’s a theological problem – a consequence of sin, falling short of God’s glory, and because the created order as a whole has yet to be fully redeemed.
That said, people make a tremendous mistake by assigning more power to this evil by claiming its presence and influence is ubiquitous.
Racism exists, but to argue that this evil is omnipotent and omnipresent – therefore, systemic – is dishonest. This dishonesty compromises human dignity by creating a sense of hopelessness in people, which prevents them from overcoming the circumstances of life. To deprive people of optimism is to disempower them; to disempower people creates a sense of victimization. Victimization fosters entitlement. Feelings of helplessness and discouragement are attributed to this evil, making it appear larger and more prominent than it should be viewed.
The effect is that people decreasingly see isolated incidents of racism as obstacles that can be overcome and rather see them as a connected pattern that’s insurmountable.
That’s where we are now. More and more people are seemingly convinced that America is intrinsically and institutionally racist. Granted, some are not convinced but are only saying so publicly as acts of self-preservation, lest they be persecuted and condemned as racists or if black, racial sellouts.
Floyd’s death, as tragic and preventable as it was, was a local incident and the product of police brutality. Those responsible will face the legal consequences in pursuit of justice. Despite Chauvin being white and Floyd being black, there’s been no evidence that suggests Floyd’s death was the result of racism, systemic or otherwise. People should caution themselves and reject the destructive habit of projecting racism into situations where it doesn’t exist. Floyd’s death should not be trivialized and it’s disgraceful that his death has been politicized.
People of good faith can agree that isolated cases of police brutality is immoral: it dehumanizes the officer(s) involved and the person(s) in the course of arrest. But that doesn’t mean the country as a whole is systemically or irredeemably racist. It’s the height of irresponsibility to connect these dots and to suggest as much.
At this moment, our country is terribly divided. There are people, politicians, and groups who contemptuously seek to use this discord to their advantage.
Knowing that, Christians should be engaging in and leading meaningful discussions, fostering ways to repair relationships, and offering constructive solutions to outstanding problems regarding police behavior and accountability – while rejecting the melodrama that characterizes the current mood.
America may be imperfect, but she is not evil.