By Chandra K. Mittal, Ph.D.
On Memorial Day, Monday, May 25th, 2020, in Minneapolis, with his left knee pinning and pressing down the neck of George Floyd into the ground, Police Officer Derek Chauvin along with three other officers not only snuffed life out of George Floyd but they indeed extinguished life in American conscience. The 8 minutes and 46 seconds of uninterrupted squeezing of George Floyd’s neck by the rogue police officers as he was dying and crying “I Can’t Breathe” set a new low for American police brutality against its own citizens. These actions were also a blatant assault on basic human dignity, decency and democratic values of America.
Ex-Officer Chauvin’s actions of taking man’s life in broad public view with assistance and participation of three other police officers while the bystanders watched, objected and video-recorded the incidence. The scene was beyond obscene, arrogant and barbaric as the suffocated George Floyd kept pleading to the officer to let him breathe. The gruesome act of Derek Chauvin was simply a modern day lynching of an American Black man by “knee” rather than by hanging from a tree as was practiced in the past.
What is most curious and puzzling about the incident is that these police officers killed the man who had no weapon on him, was already hand-cuffed, outnumbered and overpowered by police, helplessly lying down on the road pavement, and crying out that he could not breathe. George had been taken into police custody only few minutes ago for allegedly passing a counterfeit 20 Dollar bill for cigarette purchase at the convenient store in front. It defies logic why would the police officer administer a torturous treatment to a person on such a petty charge.
Answer to this or other similar incidents involving the deaths of Black men in America deserves a deeper introspection and examination of attitudes that impact race relations in America. While happenings like George Floyd’s death by police are a rare in the general population, such incidents, arrests, incarcerations and capital punishments are observed far too often against the African-Americans. This disproportionately higher rate of crimes and punishments in the Blacks population reflects a systemic defect in the American social construct requiring urgent remedial intervention to improve social health of America.
America has painfully witnessed too many instances involving deaths of innocent American Black men at the hands of civilians and law-enforcement officials. In most of these cases the justice system has not been fair or equitable to Black victims either by acquittal of the perpetrators or lighter punishments. Also, when a Black perpetrator is involved in the commission of a crime, often the penalties imposed are harsher compared to the non-Black counterparts. Such uneven and discriminatory dispensation of justice by the system is indeed indicative of inherent systemic bias against the Blacks.
America has had its history with the evil of institutional slavery, segregation, and discrimination against the people of African origin, which created a social order that inherently accorded a superior civil status to Whites over the Black race as it was denied and deprived of the basic human rights as State policy. Although slavery was officially abolished in America in 1865, it was followed by one-hundred years of legal segregation of African Americans and discrimination against them to be outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But today, while significant reforms have been made in local, state and federal laws to guide societal conduct since the Civil Rights Act passage, remnants of the past evils continue to erupt in some American minds and psyche who cannot let go of their bias and prejudice for reasons of their traditional believe in their inherent racial superiority. This is apparent from continued instances of violations of civil rights, discrimination, and dispensation of unequal justice to the people of color. It is against this mindset and background that one has to view and judge actions of Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers who decided to administer inhuman treatment of neck pressing to kill George Floyd, an African American
Violent death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in 2020 America is in no measure a casual or simple incidence. It has indeed opened deep raw wounds of the past created over 400 hundred years history and raises serious questions about the promise, spirit, and conscience of America as it relates to all its citizens. Is this what 21st century America is going to be about – discrimination and injustice? Can minorities and people of color feel safe in America at the hands of those who are supposed to protect the society? Or will America revert back to the dark period of human history when inequality, discrimination, death and injustice ruled the day?
Such questions do not only occupy African Americans but also haunt other non-White immigrants from other lands and continents, who believe in American promise of equal justice under the law. Death of George Floyd is indeed the time for America to pause and examine its conscience, identify systemic societal problems, and make collective deliberate effort to make racial accommodation a priority in its social construct. Only such approach and commitment will fulfill America’s promise to all its citizens and help them realize the essence of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as conceived by the Founders of United States of America in 1776.
Dr. Chandra Mittal is Professor at Houston Community College, Op-Ed Columnist, and Co-Founder of Indo-American Association, Houston. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.