Outrageous injustice. Arbitrary police violence in Minneapolis triggers mass protests in the United States. What can we do? A commentary.
It makes my insides churn when I see the picture. Anger flares up. How can someone be so evil? How can a policeman, a guardian of law and life, be so brutal, so violent, and so arbitrarily end the life of a man lying helplessly on the ground? My head fills with thoughts on life, on justice and on dealing with events that kindle our anger.
Could I forgive him for what he did? No, I think at first. I can’t do that. He murdered an innocent man live on camera! Shameless. I can’t just forgive this man, this white policeman – my anger is too great. And even if I wanted to: how?
Don’t you see?
I vaguely remember what it’s like to be unable to breathe. What George Floyd endured in long, agonizing minutes, I experienced for just a few seconds. In my case, it was a fight between men, maybe even friends, in which my opponent went at my throat from behind. He puts his arm around my neck and pulls fast. I want to inhale. I cannot. One. Panic wells up. My lungs feel like in a vacuum. Mortal fear. Two. I hit the floor with my hands, the sign to stop. The audience does not react. Three. What is happening? I am signaling with my hands. The sign to stop. Why does no one see that? Everyone is still cheering on the fight. I am not fighting anymore! Four. The seconds seem to drag on for an eternity. Then… free. I am free!
My lungs gasp for air. I am indescribably furious. It was supposed to be a fight between friends. It temporarily felt like a choking contest. Still, nobody acts as if they had noticed anything. Were they all blind? The next two are already going at it. I am speechless. It should have been an evening of victory. For me, it is an evening of failure and fear of death. The rules have been broken. And most importantly, no one was really looking.
This is unacceptable
In George Floyd’s case, everyone was looking. First, the policemen, now, the whole world. Still he died. I understand anyone who protests against this with all their might. I feel their frustration, their anger. I get why people in their desperation set fire to police stations. I am probably not able to fully comprehend it. But even if I could – is violence the right response to violence? The evening of my fight, I wanted to give the organizers a piece of my mind. And I would have loved to douse them with a bucket of ice water to wake them up and make them really look again. Others may have even tried to slap some sense into them. But would that have been right?
In my childhood, my friends and I agreed to walk to school together. During elementary school, it happened occasionally that my friends would decide to walk without me. I had to walk alone. When I went up to them, they ran away. Would it have helped if I had treated them or others in the same way? As an adult, I have more options. I am stronger and have more influence. I could afford to use tools to exert power. Weapons. Verbal weapons as well as physical ones. I could oppress others. Bully them. I could speak badly about other people. Gossip. Beat up people. And I could do it especially well because I learned to do exactly that as a child, yes, all of it. Because I had to go through everything myself. Many could argue that way. But would that be right?
The difficult path
If I have experienced exclusion and now exclude others, what will the others do? If I suffered blows and now strike myself, what will the others do? If I have experienced racism and arbitrary violence, and now speak badly about white people myself, maybe even strike back, what will the white men do? If I have been choked myself and now choke the air out of others, what will they do? Now that George Floyd has been murdered, what will happen next? Hate leads to hate, violence to violence. That’s how it is and always will be if we don’t change our approach. I know that it is not possible now. Not while the pain runs deep. In frustration and despair. But when should we start, then? When?
Martin Luther King Junior showed me personally that it is possible to take a different path. A road to peace. No, not a way of giving up or giving in. Anyone who assumes this, has never listened to Martin Luther King Junior, let alone understood him. He also never said that it would be easy. But should we not all wish for it? It takes greatness to not strike back when one receives a beating and yet to find means to leave no injustice without consequence. During the civil rights movement in the USA, local public transport was boycotted, among other things. Where can we exert peaceful and non-violent pressure to create justice today? Is it possible? I don’t know.
One thing is certain: violence in response to violence leads to new violence. It does not bring me closer to the goal. Do I want justice? Then why am I playing according to the rules of injustice? Can violence and hate work as a way of life? No, this will not work. We must free ourselves from the noose of hatred that takes our breath away to grasp the life that overcomes death. We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded. It is not easy. I never said that. And possible? I don’t know. Am I a good role model? Certainly not. But shouldn’t it be possible? I hope that it IS. That’s the dream I have.
May George Floyd rest in peace.
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