“What we do now echoes in eternity”Marcus Aurelius
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
George Floyd’s death was tragic, as is any death of an unarmed person caused by people employed to protect society.
To some, the murder of George Floyd could be seen as a societal issue, where poorer members of society are the victims of a system which is rigged against them. However, when an overwhelming majority of that social demographic is black, directly or indirectly it does become a race issue – particularly when you look at the historical influences upon that race.
According to the US Census Bureau, black people represent 13.4% of the population in 2020, yet account for 24% of police deaths. They are 2.5 times more likely to die at police hands and are 1.5 times more likely to be unarmed when killed (Statistica, 2020).
‘But black people commit more crime, so obviously more will die’. Yes, statistically they do commit more crime. But why is that? Across the world crime rates are highest in communities suffering from the highest levels of poverty, and the overwhelming reason why people of colour are in poverty is because of the system. Even after the abolition of slavery, black people were second class citizens. One crucial example of this was the inability to gain a mortgage, build generational wealth, and increase levels of education. There simply hasn’t been time to catch up. This is even seen in a different way in the UK, where the majority of wealth is still held by descendants of the 1066 land grab by the Normans (The Guardian). Wealth flows through generations and it will take a long time to catch up.
Young people born into poverty are more likely to get dragged into crime and ruin their future prospects. Even the legislation by which they are sentenced is rigged against them – as seen through the federal mandatory drug sentences: 5 years for 5 grams of crack cocaine (used in poorer areas with higher levels of black people), as opposed to 5 years for 500 grams of powder cocaine (used by wealthier, predominantly white people). Future job prospects are then limited and the cycle of crime and poverty continues. When police can easily arrest dozens of people in a day driving through a ghetto, it exacerbates the problem.
It is easy to see how anger builds. A common chorus online is ‘yes he shouldn’t have died, but the rioting is bad’. Imagine watching time after time police getting lenient sentences, if a sentence at all, while simultaneously watching the wealth gap increase and getting regularly stopped just for being black. People have been marching in protest since the days of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and not much has really changed for some people, except the KKK have stopped hanging black people from trees. Now they’re just hunting them down when they jog through a white neighbourhood.
There are many cases where sometimes, rightly or wrongly, people feel that upping the violence is their only answer. As seen when our military resort to violence to defeat a regime that refuses to change, or when people tell children to punch the bully square in the face if they don’t stop. I am not saying that it is the answer, I am saying I can empathise with people that see it as their only option left.
I can also empathise with good police men and women which are now in a position they don’t want (or for many, deserve) to be in. As well as business owners suffering damage at the hands of opportunist looters of all races.
Yes all lives matter, of course they do. By agreeing black lives matter, it doesn’t mean other lives don’t. It is like somebody raising money for breast cancer and us saying ‘oh, so you don’t care about prostate cancer then?’. It just doesn’t make much sense.
The riots, for many, are a build up of years of frustrations. The solution isn’t going to be simple and of course, on both sides, there are legitimate arguments. But burying our heads in the sand under the premise that by agreeing black lives matter, then others don’t, is just going to fuel the divide.