An historical social inflection point?
This true story has a heroine, a victim, and a villain. On May 25, 2020 the lives of three people intersected in tragedy. A seventeen-year-old black girl, Darnella Frazier, our heroine, accompanied her young niece to a grocery store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To her horror, they came upon a scene where a forty-six year old black man, George Floyd, was lying on the street. Our victim.
What shocked Darnella was that Mr. Floyd was lying on his stomach, his hands were handcuffed behind his back while a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, our villain, was pinning Mr. Floyd, face to the ground, with a knee pressing on his neck. Darnella, a teen equipped with her cell phone, had presence of mind. She whipped out her phone, turned on camera, turned on video, and began documenting for the entire world to see the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police. She stood her ground, hand steady. 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Try sitting quietly for that long. It’s a very long time.
As subsequent investigation revealed, three other officers aided in bringing about this death. What had Mr. Floyd done? At this time in the U.S. counterfeit twenty-dollar bills circulate widely. You yourself may have been given one and purchased something with it. An employee at the grocery store felt Mr. Floyd had used a counterfeit bill to purchase cigarettes and called the police. Tragedy was set in motion. If only the store owner had been there. Mr. Floyd was known to him. But he wasn’t there. He would perhaps not have made that call. But the call was made and two rookie officers arrived. They began the attempt to make an arrest. Soon, officer Chavin arrived, a man with numerous complaints on his police record. He took over, and by the time Darnella and her niece arrive and Darnella began filming, Mr. Floyd was down.
He repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” “Mama,” and “please.” At one point he said, “I’m about to die.” Bystanders repeatedly told the police officer, to no avail, that he was killing the man.
The video went viral and peaceful protests began, organized by the international human rights movement Black Lives Matter, founded by three black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. The protests spread, guided by the experience in the living memory of many in the black community of civil rights peaceful protests inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers that resulted in major legislation. Peaceful protests spread from coast to coast in the U.S., highlighting for a nation founded on belief in “justice for all” that systemic racism still cripples the nation, blemishes it. But racism and bigotry is not just a U.S. flaw, it’s a human flaw that bedevils us wherever it thrives. Protests have sprouted here and there around the world, wherever humanity’s “better angels” are willing to face up to it.
Sadly, there has been rioting and vandalism as well. That is another human flaw: there are always a few, almost always the majority being men, who are disaffected and criminal who seize on any opportunity to express the urge to destroy by using public physical violence.
But in the fourteen days since Mr. Floyd’s brutal death, the following have happened as the result of peaceful protests, large and small. These suggest that to the extent that significant changes flow from the protests, his death may very well be a profound inflection point for the better for human history.
Within 10 days of sustained protests:
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Dr. Judith Hand writes historical fiction, contemporary action/adventure, and screenplays. Hand earned her Ph.D. in biology from UCLA. Her studies included animal behavior and primatology. After completing a Smithsonian Post-doctoral Fellowship at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., she returned to UCLA as a research associate and lecturer. Her undergraduate major was in cultural anthropology. She worked as a technician in neurophysiology laboratories at UCLA and the Max Planck Institute, in Munich, Germany. As a student of animal communication, she has written scientific papers on the subject of social conflict resolution.
Astronomy image credit: NASA: Full Hemisphere Views of Earth at Night.