What the George Floyd Protests Mean for Justice

Between reform and revolution, discontent with the status quo is at an all-time high.

After the murder of yet another innocent black man at the hands of the police, all pretense of civility was becoming undone at the seams–riots and protests broke out everywhere in defiance of systemic racism in America, and with it burst wide open the furor of an entire generation at the callousness of a corrupt institution and leadership’s inability to deliver on its promises for reform.

In its wake, this unrest is revealing who is truly committed to the process of change–those who lamented more the destruction of storefronts have had their moral compass put under harsh scrutiny as their response to police brutality pales in comparison. Bystanders are suddenly faced with the choice of supporting a movement for radical change unconditionally — regardless of method — or only cosign which they’re more comfortable with.

To right the wrongs of centuries of slavery is a gargantuan undertaking that even the country’s first black president showed a great aversion to–when two terms of Barack Obama got upended with what is arguably the strongest right-wing coalition in modern American history, it illustrated that the arc of history bends toward justice only at our command. Progress endures only as much as its custodians uphold it–when America abandoned its duties to keep bettering the lives of black people beyond the faintest displays of Black Excellence, the opening was ripe for forces of white supremacy to take hold, and looking at who’s occupying the vestiges of power, it’s very clear that they did.

In a country ever-so-polarized, that tension could not sustain itself without breaking into all-out conflict. The police — an institution that has historically upheld tenets of white supremacist thought within its premises — is clashing not just physically, but ideologically with what many Americans have come to identify as an ill of their society. Similar sentiment has been voiced across the globe, which just goes to show that the black man’s hurt is hardly an insular phenomenon–it is woven into the fabric of global society.

It’s all-the-more puzzling then that some have been more indignant at property damage than the loss of life–George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more to have preceded and will succeed them, missed out on a lifetime of adventures through no fault of their own. Only a system morally corrupt, is able to make amends with their far-too-sudden departure.

A society where vectors of injustice are left untapped is one bound to face its reckoning through sheer force of responsibility–the people have finally decided that their collective silence was achieving naught, and it was about time to tussle with the police on their own terms. Whether it’s peaceful, or violent–all are entitled to express anger, and that goes doubly so for the black community whose voices we pretend to heed in the heat of the moment, but forget whenever it is opportune to do so.

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free,” said the great Eugene V. Debs. This quote isn’t just about collapsing the struggle of the proletariat under one banner–it is first and foremost a plea for justice from the perspective of the ultimate altruist. If one black soul remains captive to the clutches of a racist system, undermining it is our calling–we cannot keep deflecting responsibility, when it is our duty to see the project of justice for all through.

Written from a prison cell on April 16th, 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an indictment of the passivity that has come to paralyze the march towards action within our political establishments. “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice,” wrote Dr. King, Jr. “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

In the most predictable fashion ever, shallow understanding from people of good will has once again come to the fore–in an effort to distance themselves furthest from the violence of the police, some are pushing the narrative that the only valid form of protest is one most inoffensive to agents of state violence. An institution that has been violent towards the powerless without reprimand deserves to have its toxin thrown back at it–to devalue resistance based on its violent character is a fundamental rejection of pre-existing historical precedent.

Throughout America, there’s a sense that protesters have moved well beyond the police’s peace offerings–whereas taming the fires of communitarian discord would’ve had value in the past, seeing as it only bred indifference, it was no longer sustainable. Even those who took the knee to pose for the media as a token of their acknowledgement of black people’s suffering were quick to reverse course and go right back to brutalizing them.

For a long while, the discussion was relegated to what could be done to reform the police, but now, people have moved onto the next frontier–disillusioned by their continued stalling of reform efforts, many are calling for the institution to be outright abolished. That of course wouldn’t put an end to America’s reign of white supremacy, but it’d at least momentarily halt its ability to carry out extrajudicial killings under the cover of qualified immunity.

But beyond the police, George Floyd or even America’s current political apparatus, there’s no disputing that a change of circumstances necessitates a change of heart, and America’s heart is dark, cold and unfeeling of black people’s hurt. The political establishment has utterly failed to drive that change forward, and it’s now up to the people to make it known and heard that they will not tolerate adversity towards black lives of any kind–if the ballot box can’t speak loud enough, civil disobedience may be able to.