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Garrett: America’s latest turmoil isn’t as black and white as it might seem

I seethed with anger when I watched the video of now-fired-and-jailed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as the man begged for mercy, asked for his mother and slowly died.

I seethed with anger all over again as I watched footage from the violent riots that broke out in cities across the country on Friday and Saturday nights — particularly as the carnage came to Tennessee on Saturday.

A lot of videos from the madness we’ve seen over the past week were hard to watch — none more so than the murder of George Floyd, but some came close.

The video of a man being dragged to death after being caught in the tires of a FedEx semi-truck he’d tried to loot was especially brutal. The video of a police officer being dragged by an angry mob. The video of a shop owner being beat unconscious by a mob as he attempted to protect his business.

Over and over, new videos emerged that made me question the very moral fabric of this nation we love. It’s not that America hasn’t seen such turmoil before. There were race riots in the 1960s as black Americans struggled for the same rights that their white neighbors had long enjoyed. And we slaughtered one another wholesale in the 1860s over the issue of slavery.

I can’t speak to those times of turmoil because I wasn’t alive in those eras.

I’m alive for this tumultuous time, however, and it is incredibly disheartening to watch it all play out. As ugly and tragic as the death of George Floyd was, it finally seemed to shock the core of the nation enough for us to have an honest discussion about what black Americans have long felt is a disproportionate use of force by law enforcement.

Sure, there had been plenty of white-cop-on-black-suspect brutalities in the recent past that have sparked debate. In some of them, the cops seemed very much in the right. In some of them, the cops seemed very much in the wrong.

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But in none of them were Americans as united in their condemnation of the use of force as they were after last week’s events in Minneapolis — perhaps because Floyd’s death was especially heinous. People of all races, in urban areas and in rural areas alike, raged on social media. Law enforcement officers who are sometimes reticent to criticize their brothers in blue were universal in their condemnation of Chauvin’s actions, as well as the actions of the other three officers on scene who failed to stop him.

All of that was lost as protests turned violent, first in Minneapolis and then in what seemed like every major city in America as the weekend arrived. The rioters in Minneapolis and other places did more than senselessly burn their hometowns — the places where they shop and the places that provide them services. They also turned the focal point from a white cop unjustly killing a black man to the violence that was taking place in America’s cities. And, just like that, the unity turned into a deepening of the racial discord that exists in these United States.

But just as many residents of Minneapolis and other major cities allowed themselves to be led by Antifa agitators who don’t live in those cities and don’t have a dog in the fight, many of us watching from afar have allowed ourselves to be duped by the images that have resulted.

On Sunday, police in Nashville arrested the man who they say is responsible for setting fire to the city’s historic courthouse during Saturday night’s riot. He was white.

On Friday, images emerged of a group of men shielding a Louisville police officer from an angry mob after he became cut off from the rest of his unit. They were black.

There were other examples, too. Police were seeking a young white man they said was responsible for inciting the violence in downtown Philadelphia. Black men were pictured aiding the Houston shopkeeper who was beaten within an inch of his life.

Then there were the images of a sheriff in Flint, Michigan who took off his helmet, put down his baton and joined black protestors who were marching the street … and images elsewhere of police kneeling with black men and women to pray for the family of George Floyd.

We know that the vast majority of cops are good people who are in the profession for all the right reasons. They should not be judged by the actions of the bad apples, like Derek Chauvin, no more than I would want to be judged by the bad apples who have used the power of ink and the written word to help incite the violence we’ve seen over the past week. But neither should black people in America’s inner cities be judged by that violence.

There are no winners in any of this.

Not cops, who have seen their reputation further stained — and trust lost in the black communities they serve — by one rogue killer and a few more bad apples who failed to stop him.

Not the news media, which helped fan the flames by once again serving as activists rather than informers.

Not the President of the United States, who wrongly used Twitter to trash local leaders of the opposing party at a time when they were facing crisis in their cities.

Not Twitter, which chose to censor the president’s “when looting starts, shooting starts” remark on the grounds that it supposedly “glorified violence” while all the while failing to censor those who used the platform to call for violence against police officers.

Not America, which once again finds herself embroiled in a crisis of her own making, at a time when she was already strained from the impacts of a virus that has killed more than a hundred thousand people and record unemployment that threatens to plunge us into the worst period of economic strife that we’ve ever known.

And not mankind. Because we have once again proven that we’re incapable of looking deeper than the color of each other’s skin, focusing more on what separates us than what unites us, and forgetting the tenets of the same religion — Christianity — that inspired the foundation of this nation.

The human race is deeply, hopelessly flawed. We’ve always known that. If the Civil War of the 1860s and the racial violence of the 1960s didn’t cause us to put aside our differences in favor of our similarities, once and for all, the deepening strife of 2020 won’t do it, either.

But wouldn’t it be nice if it did?

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Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.
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