There is no question that the death of George Floyd is highly questionable.
The shocking and shameful insurgencies erupting in cities across the country propose that the answer is rooted in an engrained American racism. That response, too, is highly questionable.
In a sense, the reaction is as disturbing as the incident itself. As fire and fury run rampant, there arises with them a challenge to Catholics to provide a Catholic counterbalance—one of reason rather than riot.
The footage appears to show former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin using excessive force in pinning down the handcuffed George Floyd, who had allegedly just tried to buy cigarettes using a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin handcuffed Floyd and then pressed his knee against the man’s neck for several minutes, ignoring his pleas, until the suspect became unresponsive. After being taken from the scene by an ambulance, Floyd was pronounced dead at a hospital. It’s a deeply unsettling story.
What is equally unsettling are the widespread riots the affair has sparked. While there are questions about the case whose answers might color the situation—such as, that Floyd was reported to have resisted arrest, that he was in medical distress before Chauvin restrained him, that Floyd’s autopsy did not indicate he died of asphyxia or strangulation, or that he and Chauvin had been co-workers at a nightclub—the only question being asked is the one regarding color. Derek Chauvin is white; George Floyd was black. The appalling image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck is being broadcast as evidence, not only of police brutality, but of systemic racism in law enforcement.
The problem is that there is no evidence to prove that Chauvin’s use of excessive force was motivated by racial animus. That he acted inhumanely, callously, or disproportionately—that is a matter of little debate. Whether he is a racist—that is a speculative accusation. And yet it’s being treated as a foregone conclusion.
Now, the available information strongly suggests that George Floyd should not have died. By all appearances, he was the victim of excessive force, and the charges that Derek Chauvin now faces are warranted. But to burn and loot the stores in your neighborhood is not a meaningful response to racism or murder.
I don’t deny that racism exists in America. But is it really as prevalent as the mobs and their apologists in the media would have us believe? For the sake of argument, let’s say that racist police officers wantonly assassinating black men was a common occurrence. Would these riots have erupted after this single instance where there is literally not a shred of evidence that the cop was acting on racial animus?
Does this mean that we, as Catholics, should ignore George Floyd’s pleas as he died with his neck pinned to the hot asphalt by a police officer’s knee? Should we focus only on rebuking the mob that is using his death as an excuse to tear apart America’s major cities? Absolutely not. Justice can and must be served.
Moreover, outrage over racism is not just a left-wing-SJW thing. It is of essential Catholic concern, and therefore it should be taken with more seriousness than a national knee-jerk reaction.
Yet we must also acknowledge the lack of evidence suggesting that Chauvin was motivated by racial hatred. Even if it was—even if evidence appears proving that Chauvin acted on racial animus—a single racist cop is not evidence of “systemic racism” in law enforcement. It’s precisely this sort of bandwagon thinking which Catholics ought to resist. As Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
As for those Christians who join the mob in crying “racism,” they didn’t succeed in securing justice, only in proliferating injustice. They helped to incite these riots, which have led to several more deaths, as well as millions of dollars in damaged property. Family businesses have been destroyed and homes burned to the ground as anarchy spreads across America’s major cities.
Catholics have an ever-growing duty to remain reasonable in the face of rage and riot. Jumping to conclusions has never historically profited the people of God. (Just ask Caiaphas.)
Abraham Lincoln once observed,
As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
We pray for justice and truth in the death of George Floyd, and for an end to the violence that burns through our cities like a fiery epitaph. May President Lincoln’s words never come to pass.