We must love our neighbors as ourselves

By CHARLIE SMITH,

I’ve never had a negative interaction with police officers (other than reactions to articles I wrote they didn’t like, but that’s another story altogether). Between a couple of wrecks and a few speeding tickets, all my official dealings with law enforcement have been handled professionally.

I’ve never been arrested, nor has anyone in my immediate family. I only recall reporting one incident to police, regarding a minor theft. A deputy even stopped and helped me change a flat tire one time.

That’s probably the experience that many people from white, middle-class backgrounds like myself have. Because of that, we tend to be trusting of police officers and take their side when accusations are made against them.

But not everyone has that same experience with police, particularly black Americans. People with similar backgrounds and cultures to me should keep that in mind when the issue of police brutality is raised. As Atticus Finch, in the literary classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” said, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

The death of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street May 25 has brought that to all of our minds over the past week. If you haven’t watched the footage, go do it now. It’s disturbing, but we all need to see it. The New York Times has a piece on YouTube called “How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody” that gives the full context as much as possible.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, says he can’t breathe some 16 times, but officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, even after Floyd is clearly unconscious and bystanders beg the officer to let up. It’s a cruel, evil, calloused, racist act.

Three sad truths that we need to confront: That would never have happened to someone like me; it’s doubtful anything would have been done to the officers involved if witnesses had not recorded it and this is not anywhere close to the first time something as terrible as this has happened.

That’s why Americans, both black and white, are outraged about this and are demanding things change between how police interact with communities, particularly when black men are involved.

But at least the wheels of justice are turning: All four officers at the scene were quickly fired, and Chauvin, 44. was charged in four days — a fast time for a police brutality case — with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Unfortunately, chaos has erupted in many major cities as peaceful protests — which are protected by the 1st Amendment — descend into looting and carnage. Just as Chauvin’s despicable actions are not acceptable in a free society, neither is the indiscriminate destruction of the property and health of people who had nothing to do with the terrible events in Minnesota.

“This is a black-owned business,” Arthur Harden, who works security at a downtown Atlanta building, was quoted as saying in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as vandals busted windows Saturday night. “What did this building do to you?”

Thankfully the protests here in Columbia have been peaceful, and I’m hopeful we can continue that way. Senseless violence distracts from the tragedy of Floyd’s death and makes it more difficult to build a consensus about how to make changes that will prevent similar events from happening in the future.

We’ve got to do better as a nation to live up to our founding principles of equality and freedom. George Floyd’s death must awaken us to the urgent need to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must each accept that as an individual challenge. That’s the only way a meaningful change is ever going to come.

Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at (601) 736-2611 or csmith@columbianprogress.com.