The Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd has resulted in a mass uprising throughout the country protesting archaic law enforcement tactics and flat out excessive uses of force that should have been abolished long ago and that have resulted in an uneven system of “justice” that all too often ends in the death of a black person in cities across the country. Much of the discourse around these rallies, which have been overwhelmingly peaceful, although marred by opportunistic gangs of marauders intent on looting and senseless destruction, says that “this time is different.” The mass gatherings include many whites who have joined with blacks and other minorities to demand real police reform and even to “defund” police departments in order to rethink the way order is maintained throughout our society.
But, one has to ask, have we seen this movie before? Is real change in the cards? Not too long ago, the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjorie Douglas Parkman High School animated the movement to finally pass sensible gun laws in this country, saying, you guessed it,”this time is different.” But the NRA and its even crazier relatives have pushed back, backed by a cowardly president from his bunker in the White House, and little has changed.
So, what are the chances of real police reform? After Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the Obama Justice Department investigated police practices in a number of cities and entered into consent orders that promised widespread change. But this administration has rejected these mandates, and powerful police unions, intent on protecting their own, have pushed back against meaningful reform.
Peaceful protest gets you only so far. It now seems almost quaint that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at an NFL pre-season game in 2016 to bring attention to racial injustice, police brutality and systematic oppression in the country. For that, he was rewarded with continuing unemployment, condemned for being unpatriotic and President Trump suggesting that the NFL should “[g]et that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.” Now, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has joined the bandwagon and acknowledged that he was wrong in condemning the action, albeit without mentioning Kaepernick’s name, and kneeling has become the standard acceptable form of protest.
But Kaepernick was not the first black athlete to make a visible stand against injustice. At the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos shocked the world by raising their black-gloved fists during the National Anthem on the pedestal following their first and third place finishes in the 200 meter dash. For their troubles, Smith and Carlos were immediately ordered to pack up and go home to the law and order world of Richard Nixon. 52 years later, Smith is still fighting, although in a much more low key way, as President Trump tries his best to emulate Nixon’s worst tendencies.
Which leads me to the last image: that of Trump’s cowardly march to St. John’s Church after his thugs forcefully removed peaceful protesters in his path with tear gas so that he could brandish a bible above his head in a symbol of what exactly? It can’t be that he was demonstrating the power of the Word of God since it is doubtful that he reads any book, much less that one. It also can’t be that he is defending the Truth given his well-documented series of lies, now approaching 20,000, according to the Washington Post.
History has continuously demonstrated that the bible can be used for as many malevolent as benevolent purposes. And Trump’s subsequent defense of maintaining the names of military installations named after Confederate traitors shows where his mind is at. Maybe next time, he can actually enter the church and hear what the book says. Or maybe he can persist in his inimical racist views and remain on the wrong side of history again. And, just maybe, this time will prove to be different.