The tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, has set into motion a public outcry that will go down in American history. In Mr. Floyd’s case, the officer who was responsible for his safety will be held responsible for his demise. Anyone issued handcuffs should be aware of the fact that handcuffed suspects who are laid on their stomachs cannot breathe because the pressure on the diaphragm restricts their breathing. If the officer charged in the death claims he was never advised of the potential danger, then he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, under the much-used police phrase: “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
The United States is a nation of laws, where those who enforce those laws are the police. Accused of being the hands of unfair laws and enforcers of discriminatory policies, there are now movements to defund and even disband police departments. There have been riots, burned buildings, and destroyed public monuments. There have also been dozens of murders of those of the same race as George Floyd, all presumed just as innocent (certainly the murdered children were innocent) as Mr. Floyd. How the murders of innocent citizens will motivate legislatures remains to be seen. Which moves us to legislation.
It would be interesting to see how many of the protesters know who know the names of their congressional representative, their senators, and their state representatives. It would be interesting to know how many of the protesters have written their representatives, or showed up at their offices to express their discontent, if they even know the location of the offices of their representatives or how to reach those representatives by mail or other means. Let’s all get angry, go to the streets, set things on fire, destroy things, and expect those in power to listen to us. While violence may get attention, it is likely to get the wrong type of attention.
Let’s propose the defunding or disbandment of police departments, without any visible plans to replace the (assumed) corrupt police or to protect the citizens. Let’s follow the logic (or lack of it) here; an innocent citizen is killed, therefore we will disband all police agencies and leave the citizens to protect themselves. Somehow, this doesn’t sound like a plan to me. Are the protesters advocating social justice or racial revenge? By all means, let us, as a nation, revise policies that are unfair and discriminatory. But guilt by association, (another police phrase) does not rationalize wiping out all agencies and bureaus; there may well be agencies that concentrate on being fair with all citizens and take great measures to ensure that they do not discriminate. In terms of law enforcement, arresting everyone at the party just because a few were disturbing things and not following the rules is not an effective policy. All I hear is to defund the agencies, and no plans for replacement of those agencies. The very fact of disbanding police agencies sounds more like revenge than justice or a reasonable reaction to events, be those events recent or aged. If you think the riots were anarchy, wait until there is no answer to your emergency call for help and see what will happen.
Because certain ethnic groups do not do well on the SAT or ACT college entrance exam, let’s make everything equal by doing away with those tests. It would be remiss not to mention that there is an ethnic minority who does considerably better than almost all other minority ethnic groups on standardized tests, and to discard the college entrance exams will cause this minority to lose an advantage that they worked hard to attain. Nonetheless, the SAT and ACT, which are standardized tests whose questions should come as no surprise to any student trying to get into college, are going to be discarded by many higher-learning institutions. The question is, in reality: Are the SAT and ACT discriminatory, or are the institutions that prepare potential college students to take the standardized tests simply not performing the duties of which they must be aware? Next, proceeding upon the assumption that the ACT and SAT are discriminatory, it will naturally follow that tests like the Praxis II, the MCAT, the GED, the LSAT, the GRE, all graduate professional entrance exams, will have to go by the wayside as well, as they too, are discriminatory.
Without test scores, grades will have to be the criteria for college admission. Grade inflation, where grades are boosted , is rampant in schools all over the U.S. There are now high-school graduates who can achieve a grade point average of 4.5 using the traditional zero-to-four point scale. A conversation with some of these above and beyond perfect students reveals these students are convinced that they are entitled to that above-perfect record. If asked for an example about who feels they are entitled in this society, use the 4.5 rewarded students as a perfect example of the entitled youth in this society. This entitlement has been created and encouraged, of course, by professionals who, in my opinion, should know better.
Americans respect the right of its citizens to express their displeasure regarding the government. But when setting fire and looting private and public buildings, and assaulting police become an expression of discontent, it has crossed the line of public expression. Violence promotes more violence, and it is not justified, nor does is solve much in the end.
Representatives, state and federal, overwhelmed with letters written by unhappy citizens, or so many emails that their server breaks down, or visits to the offices of the rioters’ representatives would likely have a better effect. All the screaming and shouting and tearing down things does not address the problem in detail, nor does it submit solutions, and violence by either side only escalates the problem, moving it into another realm.
History is the polemic of the victor, and always has been. History books of more recent vintage have vilified certain leaders, whether just or otherwise. But the behavior of anyone in history must be considered in the context of history. Riots for liberty, equality and fraternity are nothing new in human history. Revolutions are to be considered in the same context; they are all unique to the societies and governments where they were initiated. But I highly doubt that those who are presently advocating a revolution understand the unintended consequences of a revolution, or that they know anything of the more important revolutions (and the needless deaths) that have occurred in the last two-hundred years of world history. Every participant in these riots should be quizzed on the Manhattan draft riots of 1863, and what, if any, changes in policy were made in the draft because of them.
The United States has a means by which our government may be altered, something that many governments cannot lay claim. Riots are not the means of change in the United States; while noted, and, to certain extent, influential, there are other means of expressing one’s discontent. It is called a ballot box. Many of the rioters might find themselves writing their representatives from behind bars in the near future. The survivors of riots in the cities where they occur may find themselves in burned-out cities, where businesses unwilling to accept the danger of being burned down or looted will flee, along with any residents who can get away. Many American cities that were destroyed by previous riots were recently coming back, and this is just another obstacle to municipal development which, in many cases, is desperately needed.
The present racism in the U.S. cannot be ignored, nor should our government take a blind eye to it.
But this hasn’t been the first time the U.S. decided that it was time for reform. For those who didn’t pay attention in history class, there were the 1960s, when voting rights became protected by the federal government, and discrimination became a federal issue. But further back, there was the Progressive Era. The U.S. public was exploited by the robber barons, who took advantage of weak regulations in many areas of the economy. Ruthless exploitation by oil, steel, and pharmaceutical industries were called to account for their reckless behavior. Many claimed that the regulations would destroy their industries, but they survived, and the public was better for it.
Burning down cities, looting, tearing down statues, obliterating police agencies?
Jeffrey Neil Jackson is an
Educator & Literary Mercenary