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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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Jayne: A year after Floyd, are we better?

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

Have we changed?

It is impossible to say. Societies evolve at a glacial pace, with the destination typically unclear until we have arrived. But with the anniversary of George Floyd’s death upon us, it is a reasonable time for reflection.

It was a year ago Tuesday that the 46-year-old Black man was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. A year ago that the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes and snuffed the life out of him. A year ago that video of the murder awakened calls for justice throughout the United States — not only from people of color who long have decried police brutality, but among whites who finally decided to listen.

The officer has been convicted of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter. That, in itself, is a sign of change. As I wrote last May: “What was it like when the death … could occur in the shadows and then be obfuscated by some specious police report? Back then, our ignorance of such events could be an excuse for denial, if a flimsy one. But now? Now there is no plausible way to ignore the facts.”

A video made such ignorance impossible, yet facts are all too often malleable these days, tortured by our own personal lens and tinted by an underlying racism. And for anybody who has faith that the conviction represents a change in America, just take a look at the comments for any FoxNews.com story about the case. Um, consider yourself warned.

Indeed, there are those who will defend police officers in all circumstances. Or who will point out that Floyd allegedly had tried to pass a counterfeit bill. Or that he had drugs in his system. How that justifies kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed man who is face down on the pavement is not clear — because there is no justification.

For an evolved, self-aware society, all of this would be a seminal event. It would lead to a willing embrace of change, to an awakening of our shortcomings and our bigotry and our long history of police brutality, particularly against people of color. It would lead to a better America, with few questions being asked about the need.

Alas, we are not that society. We are at a point in our history where efforts to confront the past inevitably are met with resistance, where denial of truth is somehow virtuous and where fear of the future is somehow righteous.

We are all the poorer for it.

So, have we changed?

Many cities, including Portland and Seattle, have seen widespread protests of police brutality over the past year. So has Vancouver, on a smaller scale. And while those protests often have devolved into violence and vandalism that obscures the dignity of the event, they reflect a burgeoning desire for justice.

And many states, including Washington, have passed legislation regarding police training and conduct and use-of-force regulations. While those laws will only be as effective as government’s enforcement of them, they reflect a sprouting recognition of our shortcomings.

Which probably is the best we can hope for in the short term. Growing awareness and new laws will not fix all of this nation’s issues, especially when it comes to race. Centuries of oppression and social systems that have entrenched that oppression cannot be overturned with the stroke of a pen.

But the hope is that those who recognize the need for change will outnumber those who prefer to close their eyes and ears. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that most Americans believe race relations will be better in the future, and younger generations are the most likely to have that expectation. Hope, we suppose, is the first step toward change.

The key, it seems, is to call out injustice when it occurs. To hold this nation accountable to its ideals. To recognize that George Floyd’s death was a symptom, not the illness itself. Because we no longer can plead ignorance of racial injustice.

Have we changed? That probably is wrong question. In truth, we should be asking, “Have we gotten better?”