By Fr. Stan Chu Ilo
“We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him into the police car and get off his neck. This abusive, excessive, and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge.” Ben Crump
Watching this dastardly video of a police officer pinning an unarmed George Floyd sent cold chills down my spine. It could have been me! The officer in question appears to be enjoying himself with his arm in his pocket, while the rest of his colleagues watched with some glee. What revulsion! What a bunch of skunks who have no sense of humanity and no milk of compassion as my brother George cried for help and for his life. He wanted to live, but these officers wanted him dead and they succeeded.
George was my brother; a fellow black man in his 40’s like me; a human being like any one of us, whose life was cut short by these wicked and heartless police officers who must be held to account.
I am filled with a deep sense of anger and outrage at what has become a pattern of white police officers hunting down black men and killing them in cold blood as if to say that their lives are expendable and disposable. Every time these terrible, racially inspired crimes are committed against a black man on our streets here in the United States, I am reminded that this society is failing black men for many reasons.
What is happening to black men in the United States is a continuation of the racial violence of the past going back to the time of slavery and the lynching which followed. The only difference is that in the past, our ancestors knew that they were victims of a destructive racial system and fought to break the yoke of slavery, racism, and segregation.
Today we are told that every American has civil liberties but those who are meant to protect these rights for citizens like George Floyd are the ones who are denying them to black men in the full glare of the public.
At the heart of this unmitigated violence and killings of black men by police officers is a total abnegation of the dignity and value of the life of black men. In the eyes of many white police officers, being black and male in America makes you a potential criminal, a suspect, a trouble maker, and a dangerous person. Being a black male means that white police officers should “fear” you and “protect” themselves and society from you in a most violent manner; being a black man in America means that you are guilty until proven innocent after you have been brutalized, bruised and killed by the police. Why do they have to kill us in order to find out that we are innocent?
True, these officers have been dismissed from the Minnesota police and will face justice. They may well be convicted or acquitted, no one is sure. However, something is broken about a society where being a black man means that you are a target of police racial profiling or of mob justice the kind that happened to a 25-year-old black man, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Something is patently wrong in a society where being a black man means that you are most likely to face an untimely death by a police officer’s gun than from natural causes.
How can this nation justify the senseless destruction of black males in the United States—through police violence, through state-sanctioned and the disproportionate imposition of the death penalty and through the prison industrial complex? How can America justify the fact that black people make up 44 percent of youth prison inmates in the United States whereas black people make up about 13 percent of the population?
Whenever I walk to work, drive to church, or volunteer at a food bank here in Chicago I wonder how a country as prosperous as the U.S. could leave so many Black males on the bottom rungs of its economic, social, and political systems and while black neighborhoods are decrepit and run-down like a third world slum. The iniquitous social reproduction that is alive and flourishing in the United States emanates from the slavery era and shameful Jim Crow laws, practices, and attitudes.
Unfortunately, it has shaped the narrative of what being black and male means in the consciousness of non-Blacks and it has given rise to the inexcusable killings of black men like one would kill an animal. Many people will counter by saying that 94 percent of all black people murdered were killed by fellow black people from 1976 to 2005 and that a black male is seven times more likely to commit murder in the United States than a white man and six times more likely to be murdered. But the contention here is that those who protect people should not become threats to the lives of those they are meant to be protecting.
The problem is not so much about policing culture in the United States. There are many decent police officers in this country who deserve our respect and highest esteem. The problem is the attitude and racist norms which shape the way being black and male is framed in the United States by whites. Racism is the original sin of White America. The white police officers who are hunting down defenseless black males have been socialized in this racist narrative about black males and blacks in general in this country.
Racism is a learned behavior; just like terrorism or hatred and other inhuman vices that hold the world in perpetual bondage. No one is born with terrorism or racist attitude or disposition in their human genome. Racism, especially against blacks or any other racial group for that matter is a learned behavior. It has festered in the U.S. and the rest of the world for a long time. It is even made worse by the veneer of civil rights and liberties in the American constitution which give a false ideal of liberty and pursuit of happiness for all Americans.
Unfortunately, many blacks in the U.S. suffer a painful cultural and existential alienation which has left them in a ghettoized world of pain and on the marginal sidelines of the so-called American dream. Racism in America is also the result of the white social construction of identity and the jaundiced narrative of the “otherness” of the Black man which emerges from this narrative.
The so-called manifest destiny which America claims for herself has remained for many black males only an unflappable peripheral destiny in the throes of police brutality, violence, incarceration, joblessness, and constant surveillance.
America can hardly claim to be a post-racial society just because it once elected a black man to the presidency. America’s justice system, systems, and institutions even religious ones are all color-coded and are embedded in attitudes of racism, prejudice, and discrimination against blacks.
It is hidden racism that every black person feels now and again. I see these hidden forms of racism against black people even in my own faith tradition. Racism and segregation have been expunged from the legal codes of the land, but it is still etched in the hearts and attitudes of White America and in many parts of the world.
America is diminished when evils and racist structures of injustice are allowed to persist. What nation will turn a blind eye to this vicious cycle of police violence against a particular racial group and the sweltering poverty of a majority of black males?
It is high time we revive the Civil Rights Movement and move beyond occasional protests and rallies. It is high time we truly overcome through a new strategy and new course of action to reverse this shameful trajectory of history and this stench on America’s social conscience. May the senseless police killing of my defenseless and unarmed brother, George Floyd, wake us all from our slumber that this kind of unmitigated evil cannot continue in these lands.