I had planned to mail it in this month with a whimsical blog post on mask adoption in Orange County. But I kept thinking about George Floyd while trying to learn Python and couldn’t get through one problem set all day. I went to bed thinking about George Floyd and woke up at 3:33 thinking about George Floyd. I should probably just offload some thoughts about George Floyd. That’s what a blog is for.
My wife brought up the topic as we were steamrolling In-N-Out at the dining room table. She started crying, and I was kind of a jerk about it. In-N-Out fries have a short window of deliciousness, and I did not want to engage in one of those conversations that to me just sound like a lot of noise. I asked her rhetorically how many black friends she has, which was probably unfair.
Eh, more mean than unfair. My wife is the best person I know. I haven’t met anyone as genuinely good as her except maybe her parents. Her empathy registers at an extraordinary level I can’t reach.
Most folks are more enamored with feeling like a good person than aligning thousands of tiny daily actions and ways of life with their lofty ideals. My wife has a heart of gold and lives that way even when no one’s looking.
You can probably sense a “but/however/that said” coming up, and here it is. I like to approach anything important with a certain amount of intellectual rigor and reflection.
I’m not saying you have to keep a tally of black friends to care and stand up for what’s right. But if you’ve spent 35 years in America, and all your friends are white, Asian or a mix of only those two… it feels like we’re just going for a quick swim in your shallow Facebook-Instagram pond of indignation, a kind of emotional masturbation with intense feelings that will fade away by Saturday.
I feel it too. I watched the video. In my highly untrained legal eye, the officer committed something ranging from murder to, best case, manslaughter of the most senseless kind (not sure there’s any other kind). It would be absolutely horrific to treat a dog like that. Hearing a 46-year-old man call out for his dead mama is not something that can ever be unheard.
Moral outrage on the surface is easy, especially from the comforts of a Newport Beach townhouse where I sleep soundly in part because I know there are so many good cops out there. Depth is harder.
A black man’s life was not valued by police. You don’t say? We landed on the moon!
I asked my wife, again rhetorically, if she’s aware American-made bombs kill children in Yemen. Black kids are shot up on Chicago streets like it’s Yemen before they ever get a fair shake in America.
My brother offered an amazing quote, also amazing because I didn’t know he was capable of reading anything besides his autobiography on how to be a loser. The idea is tough to stomach — no less so because it’s attributed to Stalin — but valid.
A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.
It’s a maddening part of human nature. My point is this. If you’re galvanized by George Floyd, then you probably know there are a lot of George Floyds out there in some form every day.
So what are you going to do the other 50 weeks of the year when this news cycle passes? Actually, if you’re really passionate about this problem, where were you until now?
I’m not trying to be a troll. Surely there is value in all these social media monologues for racial justice, if only to show support. I do wonder though how much of that support is for black men you don’t care to know personally and how much of that support is for your self-identity as a good person.
What are you suggesting? That bad cops stop killing unarmed black people? Yes, I would like to sign up for that too.
What’s the plan? I see your clean two-step process but am skeptical of its efficacy:
Step 1, get fired up over headlines, clever tweets and eloquent posts starting with some variation of “I will never know what it feels like…”
Step 2, get back to your life.
It’s not much different than watching a sad movie, feeling it in the moment, thinking about it afterwards, and smoothly transitioning back to your reality within 48 hours.
We don’t really care as much as we like to think. The things we really care about — our kids, career, health — cannot be sustained by bursts of emotion and inspiration.
If we truly care about something, we do the work. That work is tedious, less sensational and more behind the scenes. If we really cared about racist police brutality we might:
- Ease off the Trump tweet porn and focus on politics at the local level, which often has more material effect. I, for one, couldn’t pick my state senators or city councilmen or police chief out of a lineup.
- Educate ourselves in a meaningful way. That means the ratio of reading Instagram to balanced journalism can’t be so lopsided. That means spending precious leisure time comprehending dense research, policy, law and history. That means talking to people outside your bubble.
- Come up with ideas. It’s reassuring to hear your heart is filled with love and compassion, but there will be bad actors in any system. What can we test across technology, organizational behavior, protocols to reduce black fatalities in police encounters by x percent every year? Humans launched humans into space today. There has to be some engineer at Google, some professor at Harvard, some scared kid at Compton High with concepts to produce progressively better outcomes.
I don’t do any of these things or anything proactive to help George Floyds. The one puny, reactive, almost certainly trivial thing I will do after watching that video is have a plan in the improbable event I encounter similar circumstances.
If I see a handcuffed human whose right to breathe is being restricted by police, I will immediately begin live streaming on Facebook and announce it loudly. If this doesn’t clear the airway, I will approach with both hands held high and do my best to get to the handcuffed human.
I am willing to risk the handcuffed human pulling an epic Houdini and killing us all. I am slightly more worried how the police would react to my approach. Overall I’m comfortable making this particular commitment, but I have no illusions about a sleepless night and blog post masking what is effectively indifference in the long run.
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