What Justice Demands
Nearly everyone has seen the video of George Floyd's killing, and no one with a good heart could help but be saddened. George Floyd, himself convicted of the violent crime of aggravated robbery, suspected of attempting to pass counterfeit currency, and reportedly documented on body camera resisting arrest, was not a perfect individual, but he did not deserve to die. I support those who have peacefully protested his death, but I would insist on going one step farther.
Each week on average, 333 Americans are murdered. I would protest each of those killings with the same energy and emotion that has been directed at the case of George Floyd. In my heart, I do protest those killings, including the 39 persons murdered in 2018 in nearby Orlando, where Val Demings served for four years as police chief. Murders and assaults in Orlando are so frequent that it is painful to watch the local news.
We should grieve for all innocent victims of crime, but the response to Floyd's death does not reflect this fact. Cases involving apparent misconduct by police officers are rare, but each year, 500 whites are murdered by blacks, and many times that number of blacks are murdered by other blacks. Do these lives also matter, or is there something special about the case of a black man killed by white officers?
For the victim, whether white or black, it makes no difference. The difference is that, in our politically correct society, any offense against a black person is treated as egregious while offenses by blacks against whites, even murder, are overlooked. They are overlooked by the mainstream media, which has long maintained a policy of not identifying perpetrators by race except when they are white. And they are overlooked by politicians like Joe Biden, who this week rushed from his cozy basement to the site of nearby protests and spoke of his "anguish" and of a "demand for justice" — and of his eagerness as future president to "lead the conversation" on race. Does that conversation include the 500 whites murdered each year by blacks — twice the number of blacks murdered by whites?
Apparently not. Biden urged the protesters to continue, stating that protest against police brutality is "right and necessary." As if on cue, the protests have continued each night, and they have taken the lives of a number of innocent people, including Patrick Underwood, a federal officer in Oakland, and two others in Indianapolis.
How about protesting the deaths of those victims? To my knowledge, Biden has never expressed grief at the death of a white victim of crime (nor has he mentioned Underwood, who was black). Is it just when a key Democrat constituency is involved that Biden makes a show of his grief?
It's not just that there is a double standard involved when Biden and the media rush to make a martyr of an unfortunate individual like George Floyd while they ignore the deaths of hundreds of entirely innocent persons. It's a reflection of the extent to which society has turned against its traditional values, including a true sense of justice. That traditional definition of justice demands that all crimes be addressed in a fair and unbiased manner, but that is not what is happening in connection with the death of George Floyd.
Tonight, Antifa protesters will be out again, looting and burning in the name of justice but with only a twisted idea of what justice demands. Antifa barely needs a reason to pillage and engage in violence, but the Floyd protests provide the group with a convenient excuse for carrying out violence.
Like all anarchists, Antifa "protesters" are not really protesting anything; their idea of justice is nothing less than the destruction of civilization. As they see it, all social institutions are corrupt, and the "solution" is to level everything.
In the mind of the anarchist, it is "just" to pummel bystanders, fire at police, loot businesses, and burn churches. It is especially just to threaten the White House, the seat of the executive branch of government. Government, business, the churches, personal safely, the rule of law — for the anarchist, justice means the ruin of all that humans have created.
America has seen this kind of anarchist attack before, and it did not end well. Before it was over, hundreds lay dead, and thousands of businesses were destroyed.
Back in the spring of 1969, I spent a couple of hours with Mark Rudd, one of the leaders of the Columbia University insurrection. Like Antifa members today, he seemed to me unconcerned with specific goals such as income equality or universal health care — or even an end to the war in Vietnam. What seemed to excite him was political action — not "power," the power to make things better, or "protest," but action. As it seemed to me, he had little interest in practical politics: he spoke with the ardent voice of a revolutionary intent on "taking over."
Mark Rudd was not all that articulate, but he was more so than today's anarchists, who seem incapable of expressing themselves except with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Perhaps they are inarticulate because they aren't really protesting anything — they are just into violence. Or perhaps they are being paid.
Politicians like Biden are quick to distinguish between Antifa and the "genuine" protesters who "honor the memory" of George Floyd. But rather than distinguish them, we should consider what the sincere protesters and antifa have in common. Both have lost sight of a true and honest sense of justice.
It is not "just" to focus on only one black victim of violence while ignoring the fatal violence suffered by 17,300 others each year, including over 6,000 whites. No legitimate conception of justice can be based on the idea that the lives of one race matter while the lives of others do not. The most essential criterion of justice is that it must be blind.
By limiting their protests to the death of George Floyd, "genuine" protesters — those whom Joe Biden encourages to return to the streets night after night — reveal their lack of compassion for others who have died unjustly. In this way, they are not so different from Antifa, who seem to have little compassion for any who have died unjustly.
What "genuine" protesters share with Antifa is a callous rejection of the idea that justice is blind. Antifa would destroy our legal system, burn our government buildings, and assault the police who maintain order. Mainstream protesters would not go that far; they would simply limit their concern to one race.
"Justice for one race" is not an acceptable idea. It sounds a great deal like the fascist doctrine of race superiority that the Floyd protesters claim to be opposing. Those who really want to honor the memory of George Floyd or anyone else should do so by considering the true nature of justice and basing their actions on what justice demands: a sincere concern for all who are victims of violence.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).