Just as it seemed as if we were coming together as a nation during the pandemic lockdown, we find ourselves in the midst of another crisis. The catalyst was the death of a black man by a white police officer.
Millions watched the brutal video in disbelief. Some reacted to it worse than others. Much worse.
The video was shocking and very graphic. The officer is clearly seen placing his knee on the victim’s neck for an extended period of time as the victim pleaded for release and called out to his deceased mother in despair. Then the man became breathless as bystanders pleaded for the officer to relent. It was later reported that two additional officers held the victim down while a fourth stood watch and prevented bystanders from intervening.
The victim’s name was George Floyd. His death — which has angered blacks in particular and all Americans in general — is now being prosecuted as a murder. Rage spilled into the streets, with protests, riots and looting breaking out in cities across America.
Many called Floyd’s death another blatant example in a pattern of incidents over the past few years in which a black person died at the hands of a white police officer. Anger began to brew when there wasn’t an immediate arrest. Peaceful protests began in Minneapolis, where the incident occurred, and spread nationwide and even worldwide. The demonstrations quickly turned violent.
Fires, vandalism, looting and the burning of public property became widespread. Some people condoned it, calling it appropriate behavior under the circumstances. They argued that it was understandable given people’s pent-up frustration during the COVID-19 lockdown and their outrage over similar miscarriages of justice.
Calls of solidarity were heard from celebrities, the media, government officials and civil rights leaders.
Is this approval of violence justified, or should we let the justice system run its course?
We are a nation of laws. For America to work, we must abide by those laws. When our system fails, we have the opportunity — and the duty — to seek change through peaceful means. Violence and looting only hurt the cause and serve no purpose other than to destroy property, hurt people and devalue communities. Much of the current destruction has involved businesses that provide valuable goods and services and that economically stimulate the communities in which they are located.
When these are gone, where else do people have to go?
In America, we take pride in our constitutional right to protest and assemble peacefully to address our grievances. Violence has no place in our quest for how we are treated. The current elevated level of unrest must be brought under control.
Yes, people are angry. For many, it is justified. But we cannot become a nation that tolerates anarchy simply because we cannot have our way. We have a system in place to address such matters, and we must allow that system to work.
This isn’t the time to throw out our rule of law or our common sense. We need to come together as Americans and do what we have always done best — sit down and reason together. We have always worked out our problems in a peaceful fashion. We must continue down that path.
Violence and destruction serve no purpose and only lead to more negative results. We must learn how to work together and solve our problems in a sensible manner. It is very discouraging to see people of all ages acting disrespectfully toward each other and destroying the fruits of our labor.
Acts of violence must be condemned and stopped by the authorities and our own good judgment. Those committing such acts of violence must be held accountable. We must remind them of leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who worked to unite us, and prevent them from tearing down and destroying the American Dream.
According to George Floyd’s family, that is the legacy he would have wanted to leave.
Emery McClendon is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network.