OPINION PIECE

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George Floyd’s Death Represents a Much Bigger Problem

By Justin Lamoureux

Redcoat Review Writer

Posted June 18, 2020

George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer has attracted significant attention on social media, with many people - including students at Berlin High School - posting“Black Lives Matter” photos or messages imploring their peers to help combat racial discrimination at the hands of law enforcement.

These messages of inspiration take different forms but convey a monolithic message: It’s not just George Floyd. There is a much bigger problem at hand and has been for many years.

In a town like Berlin, it’s difficult to comprehend that racism continues to be a hot-button issue. After all, only five percent of our town’s population is non-white (according to the 2010 Census), and the average income here is considerably higher than our national average. We know many of our police officers by name, and in several cases, we call them our friends. On a broader scale, though, systemic racism and discrimination both remain a consistent theme - especially among law enforcement.

It happens in cities and neighborhoods across the country: African-Americans being followed, questioned, even accused of crimes - largely because of the color of their skin. According to the accounts of people of color, minor “offenses” - such as driving a few miles above the speed limit, or playing music too loudly - are blown out of proportion. This provides some officers with validation for choosing to escalate the conflict, the consequences of which can be devastating.

According to The Washington Post, in George Floyd’s case, the Minneapolis Police Department was responding to allegations from convenience store employees that he made a purchase using a counterfeit bill. Officers pinned Floyd - who, according to the Washington Post, convenience store employees believed was intoxicated - to the ground after he fell while trying to get into the police vehicle. Camera footage demonstrates that he was not behaving violently towards officers. They held him in a chokehold, applying increased pressure to his neck for an extended period. This caused him to lose consciousness and later suffocate.

Mr. Floyd’s death reflects a much greater societal problem: According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), African-Americans are nearly three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. This disturbing statistic can be attributed to several underlying factors - racial profiling and higher crime rates in predominantly black neighborhoods, for instance - but cannot be overlooked in a nation where “all men are created equal.”

But don’t just focus on the numbers; this is a problem that affects countless families on a personal level. Mothers are watching coverage of George Floyd’s death and praying their child isn’t next. Fathers are showing their teenage sons how to avoid being shot if they are pulled over by a police officer; in many cases, one false move - such as reaching into the glove compartment to grab their license or vehicle registration - can be fatal. Communities are being torn apart by tragic, senseless deaths - family and friends who lost their lives simply because they were black in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is not a political issue. This is not a condemnation of law enforcement itself. This is a criticism of tactics employed by some police that unfairly target the black community. This is, essentially, a matter of life and death.

It should not matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican. It should not matter if you watch Fox or MSNBC. The circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death are intolerable, and the behavior demonstrated by the identified officers is morally reprehensible.

Don’t let the progress we have made over the last half-century fool you - there is still discrimination in this country. Regardless of where you stand in society - and whether you have been on the receiving end of such profiling yourself - we all must fight for change.