A wave of angry protests over the merciless alleged killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a wave of more than 70 angry protests in cities across the nation last week and into the weekend. The majority were peaceful, but others turned violent, with vandals looting and burning businesses.
It was a sadly familiar scene, a nightmare that has been repeated time and again for decades. We must end this national shame. White police officers brutalizing and killing black men in their custody is criminal, period. Derek Chauvin and the three other officers who held Floyd down deserve to be sent to prison.
As one African-American commentator rightly pointed out, what we witnessed in the cellphone video of the killing was the slow, painful lynching of a black man by a white officer in the light of day, surrounded by witnesses.
This was not Jim Crow America. This was Minneapolis, 2020.
And what caused it all? A counterfeit $20 bill that Floyd was alleged to have tried to pass at a store.
Yes, most police officers are good, honest and hardworking. Even one officer the likes of Chauvin, however, is one too many.
Protests turned to riots over the weekend in cities across the country, including New York City. We must condemn the looting we witnessed. Rioting is wrong. It is illegal. It should never have happened. It also do nothing to accomplish the cause of peace.
As a nation, however, we must pause a moment and reflect on why people in communities of color would, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo remarked, burn down their own house. We do not presume to speak for them, but we can imagine that the killing they witnessed turned long-simmering anger into rage, and the riotous behavior was a way to vent it.
It is a rage pent up not only because of a single killing, but also because of a long-time pattern of police killings. Taken together, they constitute what is called structural, or systemic, racism, the racism that is built into our very institutions — our police departments, our hospitals, our schools, our governments.
Last year, the Herald undertook a nearly yearlong investigative series, “The Racism Around Us,” reporting on the structural racism in institutions here in Nassau County. The results were, in many ways, not surprising, but at the same time entirely shocking. The bottom line is that racism is to be found at all levels of our society, including in the media.
Until we solve the issue of structural racism, we will never find the peace that our nation seeks — the peace that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prayed for.