I remember way back on Day 76 of this blog, being incredibly rattled by the death of George Floyd and writing a post about it. That was obviously a galvanizing event in a country already struggling through a scary pandemic. It set into motion a summer of protests and further division that I scarcely could have imagined at the time.
Much has changed since then, but the sad fact is what hasn’t changed is unarmed Black people being killed by police. I wish I could look back at the inflection point of George Floyd’s murder and say that it set about a slowdown in that happening, but we’ve seen several new examples just in the past couple of weeks.
Well, yesterday the verdict finally came down in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer involved in the murder, and much of the country breathed a sigh of relief that he was found guilty on all counts. Many will say they breathed a sigh of relief because the verdict meant there wouldn’t be angry protests nationwide. Me, I’m just glad that finally one mark was made on the right side of the ledger in one of these cases. Had there been no accountability here, in the face of something this egregious, it’s hard to imagine there ever could be.
“Hey, hold on,” you may be asking yourself. “What about the goofy kid stories and wacky anecdotes we’ve come to expect from this blog? What does any of this have to do with parenting, productivity or quarantine?”
Well, I’ve been thinking a lot that this in fact has a lot to do with parenting, because it has to do with the world we are trying to create for our children. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, particularly in the past year. It goes to something even deeper than the obvious themes of racial justice that this case brought to the surface. When I listened to coverage of the trial, I weirdly noticed similarities between defense perceptions in this case and the way some people have talked about COVID.
The defense tried to make the case that literally anything other than a large man kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for almost ten minutes was what killed him. His heart, the opioids he took, even exhaust from a car that may or may not have been running. We all saw the video where a man was slowly killed before our eyes, but we were asked to believe that a bum ticker was really the problem. And surely, there are plenty who still believe that. If only he would have done more cardio, Floyd would have done just fine with not breathing for while.
To me its like arguing that Hans Gruber in Die Hard didn’t die from his fall from Nakatomi Tower, but actually died from an allergic reaction to the concrete below.
The reason this reminds me of COVID is I’ve heard lots of people throughout the pandemic comment that the death count is overrated because a lot of those people were going to die anyway. Well, we’re all going to die anyway, is any cause of death good enough to do anything about? If you have a family member in their 50s who has lived with asthma their whole life, would you say “It wasn’t COVID, it was asthma that killed them. Sure, they might have lived another 30 or 40 years had they not gotten COVID, but it’s not fair to blame it on that.”
The common thread that worries me here is wondering if we as a society have become so numb to death and suffering that we would rather just shrug and say it’s no big deal than actually do anything about it. We are so divided and everyone is so squarely entrenched in their corners that we can’t even have common sense discussions about doing anything about the literal horrors that surround us on a daily basis.
For much of the pandemic, it has been easier for lots of people to just say it isn’t a big deal than actually try to think about the larger concerns of public health and make a few sacrifices along the way. Yes, the last year has sucked and we’re still not out of it. Sure could have been better if everyone took it seriously, but I know, freedoms.
In just the last few weeks, we’ve had either a mass shooting or a police killing of a Black person every single day, and often both or more than one of each on the same day. But heaven forbid we talk about simple gun legislation or police reform. No, those would be hard, grown up conversations that might mean actually acknowledging there is a problem. Once again, easier to just pretend it isn’t there.
Well, the freedom I want is the freedom to take my kids to the grocery store without worried about being shot by a maniac who just bought a military grade death machine on a whim. I want the freedom for Black Americans to not have to live in terror of being pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from their rear view mirror because depending on who is in that squad car, the situation could turn deadly. And I want my kids to grow up in a world where difficult problems are confronted and efforts made to solve them, not just ignore them.
And I want my kids to live in a world where death and misery means something. Because unless it means something, we’ll just keep being OK with more of it. That we lost well over a half a million Americans to a strange new disease last year should mean something to us. It should be sad and haunting, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how we’ve been able to shrug that off too.
I’m past thinking any single event will change this. We are too deep in it, but I do still believe change can come. We can reclaim our sense of shared purpose and our sense of humanity. More of us need to start caring about injustice and speaking out about it. Many already are, and those of us just tuning in have a lot to learn and do.
We need to start electing leaders who actually care about solving problems and not just going on TV and running down the other side. Wanting law enforcement reform doesn’t mean hating the police. As Merrick Garland just said today, the majority of police officers are brave and good public servants and they also deserve a system that doesn’t constantly reward and excuse bad behavior.
Wanting gun reform doesn’t mean draconian measures and taking everyone’s guns away. But it really shouldn’t be impossible to have stricter background checks and not have it be so easy to get weapons that only belong on a battlefield.
There are compromise positions and we need to have more people start to recognize that. It could be that the underlying tie that binds all of this together is respect. Respect for life, respect for each other, and respect for other ideas. It feels like the last several years have seen such an obsession with self that now “freedom” seems to mean not having to care at all about the people around you and the society that is supposed to nurture all of us.
As a country, we have always looked with nostalgic awe on the Greatest Generation in World War II, and the efforts that led us to the moon in the 1960s. Those were both examples of common purpose and people still being free but freely contributing to common purpose that raises us all. It’s time to do that again. If we can start to look at all people, no matter what they look like, who they love or where they’re from, with respect and care, maybe we can actually achieve a truly just society where all of us can be our best selves and our children can thrive.
The verdict yesterday is nothing to celebrate. It is a moment born of tragedy, and it is that loss of life happening before our eyes that has made this so real. No one wanted this. As has been said, this moment isn’t justice, because justice would mean George Floyd being alive. But at least it wasn’t injustice, and maybe that’s a start. And from here, we can keep on working for a better tomorrow.