The two forgotten wrongs in the George Floyd case
There was something jarring in the summary of the story of George Floyd that the New York Times published to refresh our memories on the eve of what promises to be a gripping event — the televised trial of Officer Derek Chauvin who knelt on George Floyd's neck, eventually killing him.
It was not even the Times' fault — the article was a bare, straightforward chronological enumeration of events and did not offer any opinion. What was jarring was the reaction of Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey it quoted — the reaction that defined the tragedy for the protesters and sympathizing press: "Being Black in America should not be a death sentence," distilling what happened into a single word: racism.
This was jarring because up to that point in the Times' narrative, it was clear that George Floyd's death was caused by not one, but two wrongs, racism being neither one of them.
One wrong was that someone forged a $20 bill, which, by unlucky chance, landed in George Floyd's wallet, combined with George Floyd's refusal (that may have been induced by yet another wrong: his use of drugs) to cooperate with the police. The second wrong was Officer Chauvin's, who grossly miscalculated the amount of force needed under the circumstances.
Per the Times' account, those were two wrongs that caused George Floyd's death and Officer Chauvin's trial. Where is the racism?
This is not the only instance of such strange, illogical, Kafkaesque conflation of two wrongs into a single, unrelated wrong. Resisting arrest for illegally selling loose cigarettes, Eric Garner was put into a lethal choke hold by a New York police officer. Again, there were two wrongs: Eric Garner's violation of law and refusal to cooperate with the police on one hand, and excessive police force on the other. Which wrong got pilloried? You guessed it: racism.
An woman, Breonna Taylor, was killed by police fire in a botched arrest of her boyfriend, who was a wanted drug-dealer. Again, there were two wrongs — drug-dealing on the one hand and poor control of the firearm by an officer on the other. Yet to hear the reaction, only one wrong was involved — racism.
It seems that in our pursuit of racial fairness, we've lost the ability to be fair. We refuse to see wrongs that are there; instead, by some unconscious political alchemy, we conflate those real wrongs into one wrong that just isn't there. I've heard before of two wrongs being wrongly treated as one right, but not of two wrongs being treated as one wrong — the wrong that is not even one of the actual two.
I hope Officer Chauvin's trial will be free of accusations of racism. He should answer for his actual wrong, that of using excessive force — but not for the imagined wrong that had nothing to do with George Floyd's death. If the wrong of racism will again get invoked, invoking it will be a terrible wrong, indeed.
Image via Needpix.