By Michael J. Stern – USAToday
It has been three weeks, and I still can’t clear the image of a blue knee squeezing the breath out of George Floyd.
I wish I could put what happened to Floyd in a box labeled “isolated incident.” But that’s not possible because Floyd’s death is a dot in an unbroken line of similar incidents.
We’ve reached the point where we need to set aside tortured explanations that seek to absolve police. We must acknowledge the obvious — some cops treat African Americans much worse than white people.
From the horrifying flashpoint of Floyd’s killing came weeks of cops punching, gassing and shooting peaceful protesters and journalists. Then, on Friday night, a white Atlanta police officer shot and killed a Black man in a Wendy’s parking lot after an altercation. It took less than 48 hours for the wildfire of racism allegations to spread, for Atlanta’s mayor to fire the officer,for the police chief to resign, and for an angry mob to seek vindication by burning the hamburger restaurant to the ground.
Not all killings are racially motivated
I empathize with the frustration and fury accompanying every “breaking news” bulletin that includes a white law enforcement officer and a dead African American. Decades of unjustified police shootings trigger an expectation that today’s is just like yesterday’s — and both are going to be covered with the walls of institutional privilege that often work to bury police misconduct while ignoring the African American bodies that are literally buried in its service.
I genuinely get it.
But not every white officer who shoots an African American man is motivated by racism, and not every police shooting is a crime.
Facts matter. Here are the facts leading up to the shooting:
►On Friday night, a Wendy’s employee called 911 to say a man appeared drunk and asleep behind the wheel of his car at the Wendy’s drive-through.
►Atlanta police responded, knocked on the window of Rayshard Brooks’ car, and asked him whether he was all right.
►During a conversation with Brooks, he denied being in the Wendy’s drive-through though one of the officers talked to him there moments earlier. Brooks also didn’t know he was in Atlanta.
►Suspecting he was under the influence of alcohol, the officer performed field sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer. Brooks was drunk.
►The officer told Brooks he was too intoxicated to drive and asked him to put his hands behind his back so he could be taken into custody for driving under the influence.
►Brooks pulled away and started fighting the officers, managing to throw both of them off him.
► Brooks grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and ran. The other officer tried to stop Brooks with his Taser but a chase ensued.
► While running, Brooks turned and pointed the stolen Taser at the officer. He then shot the Taser at the officer.
► Seconds later, the officer shot Brooks.
That a man died is tragic. But the protests, celebrity outcry and general media capitulation that equates Brooks’ death with that of George Floyd, and countless other African Americans who were murdered at the hands of flagrant police misconduct, is wrong.