The images coming from Minneapolis are alarming — a violent response to a brutal killing of a black man by a white police officer. We are blind, though, if we think what is going on in the middle of the country could not happen here.
In Minneapolis, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested by police Monday after a convenience store clerk accused him of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. A video shows a white police officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, pinning Floyd face-down to the ground with his knee pressing the back of Floyd’s neck.
“I cannot breathe,” Floyd is heard saying on the video. “It’ll kill me, I can’t breathe.” He later died.
Even if he were using an illegal counterfeit bill — which is not proven — that should not be a death sentence. No one should be handled with such brutality, for any reason, by officers sworn to protect the public.
But it’s a fact that black people are killed by police in this country in disproportionate numbers. Police killed 1,099 people in 2019; nearly one-quarter were black although they make up only 13 percent of the population, according to the site Mapping Police Violence. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites.
In Minneapolis, the four white officers allegedly involved in Floyd’s death were fired, but not immediately arrested. On Friday, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Coupled with the brutality, people protested and by Wednesday that escalated to fires, including a police station, and looting. Protests have spread to cities in California, Oregon and Ohio.
Racism, shamefully, is embedded in this country. On Feb. 23, in a Georgia suburb, a white father and son were videotaped shooting a defenseless black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging. They weren’t charged until May, and later the man who recorded the murder also was charged.
Police brutality was spotlighted after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., six years ago. Measures were taken, such as putting police cameras in most departments and requiring more training. But shootings keep happening.
Setting fires and looting are not condoned, but are a response to intense frustration.
Police shootings of black people in Connecticut have sparked protests — there is no less outrage here — but religious and community leaders have prevailed in keeping demonstrations within First Amendment expression.
Two years ago, a 15-year-old black youth, Jayson Negron, was shot and killed by a Bridgeport police officer. A state police investigation determined it was justified. Last May during a protest on the anniversary of his death, Bridgeport police, who were arresting people for not dispersing quickly enough, handcuffed and detained a Hearst Connecticut Media reporter who was covering the event. Similarly, three CNN journalists were arrested by Minneapolis police Thursday while doing their jobs.
Tensions are high, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic which strikes black communities in greater numbers. Understanding is needed before change can happen.