I haven’t and won’t be sharing the video of African-American George Floyd’s murder by three racist white policemen, while a fourth looked on passively and, at the very least, failed in his civic duty to intervene. I won’t be sharing the next outrage either (and there will be more). Or the one after that. Or the one after that.
If sharing such content made a sliver of difference, I would accept the additional personal trauma it costs me and post it. But it hasn’t, isn’t and won’t make any difference. Those who care will care anyway, and those who don’t aren’t going to suddenly start doing so. Indeed, as is standard in racist state violence cases, the demonisation of the victim has already begun.
So why am I writing about this? Because I need to make a few things clear, for people on both sides of the (nonexistent) argument. All of this has been said before, by many commentators. I’m restating it because some people haven’t heard, and many others pretend they haven’t, or that they don’t understand.
First and foremost, whether George Floyd was the worst criminal in history, or barely mortal angel does not matter. At all. The policemen had no right to act as his executioners, and an eternally true test of any law enforcement is how it treats its ‘worst’ suspects. Anyone can treat relatable people who have ‘strayed off the straight and narrow’ well. But justice demands that everyone is treated fairly, from the may- well-be-innocent-wrong-place-wrong-time crowd to the career-criminal- worst-of-the-worst-serial-offender crowd. Note: this is not a comment about George Floyd — it’s a general principle using his murder and the reporting of it as a case in point.
Second, it does not matter whether George Floyd was armed. At all. It so happens that he wasn’t, but given the US allows Nazis and other far-right mobs to travel and gather with impunity, openly armed to the teeth, with little or no interference from police, there is absolutely no excuse for murdering suspects. Killing in self-defence, or to protect the lives of bystanders is, of course, a different proposition, but nobody is claiming that’s what happened here. George Floyd wasn’t endangering anyone. Neither was Botham Jean, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Amadou Diallo or countless others, many of whose names are criminally unknown.
Charles Kinsey, who remarkably survived being shot by police, was literally lying down on the ground with his hands above his head when he was attacked. I never again want to hear ‘suspects’ described as unarmed when they are killed by police. It will never, ever matter. You are also reminded that Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 people and injured nearly 700 others, lived to face a criminal trial. And Dylann Roof, who murdered nine African-American people in their church, was bought fast food by police before being taken into custody.
Third, the endless sharing of this content is in itself traumatic for people who are affected by these events. Of course, this should be everyone, and the fact that it isn’t should in itself help people understand why this is problematic. George Floyd, Korryn Gaines et al look like people I know and love — family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Their loved ones do too, and this is an important point.
Do you know what it feels like to see a beautiful five-year-old child, only for this to prompt memories of Korryn Gaines’s son in her arms when police shot her to death through the closed door of her own home, sustaining a shot to his elbow and shrapnel in his face himself? I do — and it hurts like hell. I don’t need trauma porn, or people wallowing in black people’s anguish to make themselves feel better, please and thank you.
I don’t expect everyone to get it. If everyone did, racist violence wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. But I demand that people who claim to get it back the hell off when we don’t want to talk with you about it. That you speak up in spaces where we aren’t heard or welcome. That you make agents and defenders of the lethally violent racist status quo accountable for their actions — and indeed, inactions. Unless and until white antiracists hold racists accountable, this carnage will continue, and no anguished oversharing of our trauma on social media will change that.
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- People shot to death by U.S. police, by race 2017-2020 (Statista)