Blasting Post: Amidst history and anger, can this nation move forward on racism?
Witnessing the scenes playing out on the streets of American cities the last three weeks has been eye-opening.
Anyone that’s not at least a little scared for the future of this country is not paying attention.
Then again, there’s a long history of many Americans not paying attention — and willfully ignoring — the plight of the less fortunate, particularly in the black and brown communities.
Incidents of police violence sparking rage in American cities is something many have witnessed. This time, the protests have extended across all 50 states and even internationally, from New Zealand to Germany.
For those of a certain age, these protests aren’t just jarring; They also seem like deja vu.
When I look back on the events that led to the Los Angeles riots in 1992 and watch the scary scenes in Minneapolis over last few weeks, the similarities are striking.
In 1991, a video emerged showing Rodney King being beaten by LA police after a high-speed chase. Four police officers were arrested on charges of assault, but were acquitted of criminal wrongdoing in April 1992. Within hours of the verdicts, the riots began.
King was able to survive his beating, but the cops in question likely would not have been arrested without the video evidence.
George Floyd wasn’t so lucky. The video of his arrest in Minneapolis shows him pleading for his life before he dies in police custody.
Again, this incident probably would have gone relatively unnoticed if not for the video.
The same can be said for Atlanta native Ahmaud Arbery, who’s assailants weren’t charged with murder until a video of their actions came forth.
Does it have to be this way?
Of course, this problem is not new. The killing of unarmed black people has been been tolerated since the arrival of the first slaves from Africa.
The Declaration of Independence states life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are supposed to be inalienable rights for all Americas.
How can anyone expect the black community to not be enraged when the first of these rights — life — is taken by agents of the state, often with impunity?
George Floyd’s death seems to be only the most recent violent encounter between Minneapolis police and blacks.
Analysis of Minneapolis police’s own incident reports show police were seven times more likely to use force on black people than white people.
While it’s true not every police department interacts the same way with the black community, there’s been more than enough violence throughout the nation to make any black person wary.
For many white people, none of this was enough to convince them that racism is a major problem in America until now. Maybe one positive from all this is that attitudes could be changing.
A recent ABC News poll found the majority of people — including 70 percent of white people — viewed George Floyd’s death as part of a systemic racism issue.
Compare this to just six years ago, when the same poll noted 60 percent of whites felt the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York were isolated incidents.
Many white people might finally be acknowledging how much of a scourge racism is.
I just wish people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Eric Garner — and closer to home, Tamir Rice — didn’t have to lose their lives before many awoke to the issue.
The size and spread of protests against racism has been remarkable — which makes me worry about the health of those in the crowds.
COVID-19 is very much alive.
It’s impossible not to see the size of the the crowds without fearing they will cause a spike in coronavirus cases.
Even so, the protesters have hit the streets and continue to do so. The LA riots after a week and didn’t flare up much past the city boundaries. The George Floyd protests are ongoing and has taken place in virtually ever major city in America.
The protesters are willing to endanger their own lives in effort to potentially save others.
What could be more American than that?
The issue of black people being mistreated or killed at the hands of authorities is decades — nay, centuries — old in America. It won’t be solved by a couple weeks of protesting.
Just maybe, though, this volatile moment can the first step toward healing one of the most intractable issues in American history.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GAN on Twitter.