And so here we are again. Another black man, unarmed and defenseless, is dead at the hands of a white police officer.
This time it was in Minneapolis, where excessive force complaints against its police officers are all-too-common, especially by black residents.
This time, it was 46-year-old George Floyd who lay handcuffed on the ground while police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck.
For one minute.
For as long as he could, George Floyd pleaded for Chauvin to stop, begging for air.
"Please, I can't breathe.
A bystander began filming. Other bystanders started pleading for Floyd's life.
"He's not even resisting arrest..."
"His nose is bleeding..."
"Check his pulse..."
Three other bystanders, Chauvin's fellow officers, did nothing as Floyd's breathing became more and more shallow, until it stopped.
I am filing this column a day late, which I have done exactly twice in my 18 years as a columnist. Not because I didn't know what to write about, but because I did, and I've run out of new things to say.
How many times have I written about black Americans who die at the hands of white policemen? How many times have I pleaded for my fellow white Americans to understand that there is no black community or white community? This is our community, our tragedy. Another one of our own is dead.
We've had so many chances, year after year, funeral after funeral. Had we, as white Americans, united in opposition to the racism that fuels these police killings, and the police departments and politicians that allow them, it is possible that George Floyd would not have died in the street in Minneapolis.
Had we, as white Americans, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with black Americans fighting to keep their children safe and alive, there would have been no need for the protests in the streets of Minneapolis.
Had we risked the discomfort of condemning racism in our families and workplaces, in our communities and in the White House, protesters would not have to flood the streets and parts of the city would not be in flames.
Last month, white protestors showed up at the Michigan statehouse with guns and no face masks to oppose government measures to curb the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus. Some of them put police officers at risk with the spittle of their bare-faced shouting, but no one was thrown to the ground. No one had a knee pressed into his neck. No one had to plead for his life, even as he endangered the lives of others.
Floyd was not armed. He wasn't protesting anything. A grocery store employee called the police claiming that Floyd had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. That was the beginning of the end for George Floyd.
I keep thinking of Tamir Rice. He was much younger than Floyd, only 12 years old, when he was shot in a Cleveland city park by a police officer in 2014 within seconds of the squad car swooping in. The officer who killed him had been fired from his previous police job in a Cleveland suburb, deemed unfit to serve. Cleveland police never even bothered to look at his personnel file before hiring him.
The Minneapolis police department had plenty of chances to question Derek Chauvin's fitness for service. As NBC News has reported, Chauvin is "a 19-year department veteran who was the subject of at least a dozen police conduct complaints that resulted in no disciplinary action and one that led to a 'letter of reprimand.'"
The Minneapolis police chief has fired all four officers and called for an FBI investigation. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey wants the officers charged in Floyd's death.
And here we are again, with the same question: What if there hadn't been a video? What if we hadn't all seen George Floyd pleading for his life as the police officer dug his knee into his neck? What if we hadn't watched that officer's face, so calm and indifferent, as if both of them had all the time in the world?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, "The Daughters of Erietown," will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Image courtesy of Lorie Shaull