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?”