The killing of George Floyd
In Boston we are physically miles away from Minneapolis. But no American city, and, really, no American citizen is separated from what we have seen this week in vivid detail. The killing of George Floyd has catalyzed reactions across the nation. It has done so because it is not a singular, isolated event.
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis this week was morally wrong and must be legally prosecuted. To say this is to state the obvious, but it is worth saying because there is a powerful link between the moral and legal dimensions of the killing which has now sparked protest across the country. As a nation we entrust power, even lethal force, to our government and its representatives in law enforcement. But there are both moral and legal limits to how force can be used. If officers of the law use force in the way millions of us saw in an eight-minute video, then trust in the government, in the law and in the legal system is deeply wounded. That is why the legal prosecution, following constitutional standards, must proceed with care and urgency. The police failed the moral test in George Floyd’s case; now the court will be tested. What is morally wrong must be pursued vigorously by legal standards. That much is lucidly clear.
There is a history here, one documented over decades in print, and now in social media and on television in our homes. The history is clear and tragic: George Floyd was an African American man who died at the hands of a police officer. This is a narrative which has been repeated often and in multiple locations across the country. The history is well documented, but it is known experientially in the African American community in a way that is not widely shared.
The wider community is aware of some cases, but the African American community lives with the experience and memories of these deaths in an entirely different way. It is a daily reality – one they must speak to their children about and live themselves with some fear.
This gap between different communities in what is one country, one civic community, is the broader reality which this week’s events force any of us to reflect upon.
George Floyd’s death occurred in the midst of the most catastrophic healthcare crisis in our history. We are all threatened by it. But the African American community has been impacted in numbers far beyond its size in the country. This fact in turn is related to and repeated in other issues of healthcare, employment and housing.
Responding to George Floyd’s death reaches beyond one person to some of what it reminds us about in these larger realities of our nation. In responding to his death, some have used violence. I can understand the frustration but I must strongly oppose those methods. For any of us, the singular voice of Dr. Martin Luther King still rings true: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Cardinal Sean O’Malley
Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines
To the Editor,
This is a critical time in our nation’s history, and just like Black lives, how we respond in Boston, matters. As President of the Boston City Council and as the District 7 Councilor, I am extremely proud of the peaceful protest that took place in Roxbury’s Nubian Square.
Breonna Taylor was struck by 8 bullets, killed in her own home in Louisville after police used a battering ram to enter. George Floyd’s haunting, and all too familiar, cries for breath, as a police officer in Minneapolis held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes. These are not isolated incidents, but rather reincarnations of the violence wrought by centuries of chattel slavery and later Jim Crow Laws. What generations of Black people have witnessed and experienced is a system that finds new ways to devalue Black lives. And it has to end.
Roxbury has a deep history of community organizers and activists who have worked for many years to build up our community, and we are not about to let anyone come and tear it down. Deep gratitude goes out to the local organizers involved and to the Black men from our community who were there to support the efforts and ensure safety. I also want to thank the local police, who showed up very differently than they did at Friday’s protest at the B2 station, after I and others raised concerns. Instead of coming with helmets and sticks, they were in regular uniform, and they were instrumental in redirecting car traffic away from the growing crowd of protestors.
Even downtown the protest remained peaceful. Afterwards, there were a few who used this as an opportunity to wreak havoc in our city. Let’s be clear, we cannot allow interlopers to co-opt our movement for their own agenda. I condemn violence in all its forms, and that means violence against protestors and violence against police officers.
As a community organizer for the last 30 years, I know how important protest is to our struggle. This is about Black Lives. How the police treat us is a big part of that, but it’s not about them, it’s about US! Even in a world without police brutality and state sanctioned killings of unarmed Black people, our communities still face a myriad of inequities. We are still living in substandard housing, with low-paying jobs, and sending our children to under-resourced schools. It is because of these massive inequities that we are still being impacted by COVID disproportionately.
Boston’s recent and upcoming protests call for real change, that for too long has fallen upon deaf ears — change that closes Boston’s enormous wealth gap and addresses our housing crisis. Our agenda must be one that promotes and protects the true liberation of Black people in our country, after 400 years of oppression.
It is so exhausting to have to fight for your very existence, in your own country, every single day. Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines. We need everyone, including those who benefit from the system of white supremacy, to do what they can to dismantle it. We need true justice. We cannot have healing without it. Take care of yourselves and each other.
As always, in solidarity.
Boston City Council President